Tag Archive for Religion

Neo-Liberal Economics and the decline that followed

Strider Benston : Neoliberal Economics and the decline that followed (mp3, 91.9 Mb)

The following is the text of a compelling and informative presentation given before the membership and guests of the Longmont Area Democrats January 4, 2012 meeting.

What is NeoLiberal Economics?
How did it take over the World?
What Must/Can we do about it? Now!

Strider Benston, civil rights activist

What I intend to do here tonight is to initiate a dialogue.  For the many-headed Hydra we face, wherever we turn if we actually WORK for a living, does have an historical core, which, if we do not understand, we shall continue merely tilting at windmills.

If you came for CONCLUSIONS you should go back to FOX news.  For everything they say is a conclusion, designed precisely to Prevent thinking.   And it serves that purpose very well.

They ask us: Why do we Occupy Wall Street?

The implied answer is that we are a motley crew of ungrateful, lazy sluts and hippies who want to take the rightful earnings of our BETTERS, those bankers and investors, and their political and media hacks who EARN their $ Billions, because they are SMART.

I could see about 20 different approaches to this topic, the Monster is too big to floor with one pin, but I hope this initial stab will draw some blood. Our civilization and our planet is at stake.

You can probably see why I have never been allowed to work in this country other than heavy labor.

Overheard conversation among top businessmen in the mid-1950s:

$ is the Oil of the economy, the grease in the gears that lets them turn and not grind or freeze up. It is also an inevitable by-product of a successful economy. In a thriving economy such as we now enjoy at mid-century, how do we both MAKE more $, and TAKE more $$$? For now, under Ike, with 91% tax off the top, too much of the oil is being plowed back into the economy. Why, $5,000,000 is quite a good salary nowadays: at 91%, my next $5,000,000 is only worth about $490,000 to ME. What’s the point? I might as well let it stay there and grow the company, else the Government will take it and grow their bureaucracy and regulations!!; and those fat cat Postal workers, even Black ones, making up to $3000, even $4000 a year if they stay in there for a couple decades – and look how UPPITY they’re getting!! Some of ’em here in the North even VOTE – even put in City Councilmen. Why they even put Adam Clayton Powell in OUR Congress! “an inch – a mile” – You know. What’ll They do next ?!?

We already SOLVED the cyclical crisis syndrome with Military Keynesianism. To drain off any overheating of the economy and HOOK in the workers to line up, wave the FLAG, and march off to WAR as told. But IKE wants to put a cap on “Defense” spending! We’re crippled even THERE!

And, GOD! The Natives are getting restless – look at India. They just took over their own country And CHINA!! Them Coolies just went and took the biggest damn country on earth, and they beat us back in Korea, and we can’t get it back – for now.  What is this world coming to??

We’d better get us a plan – build a TEAM. Take it BACK! That Commie cripple Franklin Roosevelt’s been dead for YEARS now and he’s still running the show!

Now even the biggest lie ever told has a kernel of truth in it, which can, if exploited properly, become the entire justification for the lie itself (at least to the gullible and the ignorant). True Believers can be hooked in so deep into the web till they can NEVER find their way out – even if they HAD moral compass enough to want to.

That radical Commie, William Jennings Bryan said, “We shan’t crucify Mankind upon a cross of GOLD!” Maybe he had a point, But! Tell you what – No One has EVER escaped from a Golden prison. So – how do we sweeten the pot? Look at Chicago, Gary, Youngstown, Akron, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Detroit. Look at all that damn STUFF we make! Look at all those houses they’re building – and roads!

What if we just stick a big Spigot right into the Heart Valve, and suck out as much lucre as we want? We could do ANYTHING with the take – but first we gotta BLOCK off that feedback pipeline that’s pumping it back into the machine.

TAXES ! That’s it! Everybody hates Taxes!


And so – the WAR to TAKE BACK AMERICA began in the mid 1950’s

And it was launched on EVERY front – especially on your TV, in your schools, churches, civic clubs, sports fields, music scene, battlefields, and the Red-Hot Mustang.

So what’s the grease?? $$$$$ IS the GREASE. LET’S take the Money!!

Our legal system extols the sanctity of CONTRACTS. If you actually work for a living and make your boss rich by doing so, and he (usually he) wants to throw your family into the street, he merely punches a keystroke and sends your factory to Mexico, or Vietnam, or China, or perhaps merely changes the name of his company to steal your pension, or just fires you. If the Bankster runs into trouble because they suckered you into a lavish home based on the income you thought you were earning, and you cannot pay the interest, and their shareholders, they merely order their government to give them a $ Trillion or so of your taxes, and they give themselves $tens$ of $Billions in BONUSES, because they were SMART enough to set it up this way.  Then WE who have actually WORKED all our lives, are castigated as lazy, scruffy BUMS who want to live on the DOLE. SS anyone?

See how it works?

Public servants, like teachers, fire fighters, water cleaners, forest rangers – you know the type. Those bums who make lots of YOUR money by sitting on their fat can twiddling their thumbs. THEY threaten the solvency of this GREAT nation by living in luxury. So we can surely get rid of tens of millions of them. That will save us from the monster of out of control Government debt.

And the Unemployed. They just drink beer, smoke dope, watch TV,and make stupid babies. They are UN American, UN Christian, UN white, UN worthy, and really should be in Jail.

Why do we OCCUPY???

OK Here is my disclaimer. I really intended to articulate a tight presentation/thesis tonight, like those polished folks on the TV or in the colleges. I really did. But I couldn’t afford 5 or 6 more books I wanted to read. I stress out, and can’t quite find the INTERNET. I keep trying to learn how to get my website to work. I get intruded by homeless folks and fear losing my trailer home, because of THE RULES, and sometimes my bicycle breaks down. So what you get is what you get. We all got circumstances.

Well, I discovered a book on the shelf of Longmont Library, and it says:

“A week or so later Arkansas spoke at a mass meeting.   A 14-year old girl–whom he named–had died under the July sun, “choppin’ cotton” for a wage of $2.50 a day. Teenagers and mothers came and went to the plantations around Demopolis, from dawn to about sunset, in trucks the contractors brought. The girl’s death seemed to me to be just a part of the way of things, but Arkansas was enraged. “There’s a SYSTEM at work against us,” he preached. “It’s not enough to stop this abuse or that. We have to get rid of the System that puts people to work for $2.50 a day.” His little speech had drawn Amens from Henry and the crowd, but it fretted me a bit: I wondered if Arkansas was a Communist, like little Red.”

A couple weeks later: “I surveyed the crowd inside Morning Star Church, 200 strong and still growing …. Some had come from Linden, and some from the countryside. By 3: a whole army of lawmen were already mustered. We heard the clink and saw the glint of tear gas containers as they were passed around. Apparently the cops didn’t intend to let us get very far from the church. Demopolis was fixing to blow. On TV.

An hour later I conferred with Linda: no Henry, no march. But Arkansas had showed up, and he and some of the Demopolis Youth Kids wouldn’t give in. While a knot of us argued, everybody else was singing Freedom Songs, but now in a different way. The kids were singing even the mournful songs in voices of challenge. They went to the open windows and shouted out lines like, “Ain’t gonna let no tear gas turn me round!” They were daring the cops, whose mere presence was a dare to us ….

At the door almost everyone fell in line behind Arkansas, still singing. I reached the steps–about the time that the billy clubs began to flail. The attack didn’t come in waves. Instead it was like propellers on an airplane. A continuous flurry. A half dozen lawmen had encircled Arkansas, and it seemed that they were intent on killing him.”

Oh, my name was, “Arkansas” – just a snippet, 47 years ago, of one of millions of incidents in ten thousand communities in the Struggle for human rights and dignity – here – in America.

Now, there are, maybe 20 different approaches I could bring. But they ARE commensurate. I hope others will take up the cudgel to deepen our understanding, for if you do not comprehend your circumstance, you will become the slave of those who do.

The Capitalist Revolution

Much of the language of resentment exploited by thugs like Grover Norquist, was launched during the English Civil War of the 1640s, Europe’s first Capitalist revolution. Oppressive taxation, regulative stifling of entrepreneurship, bureaucratic cronyism, arbitrary government, paternalism – all became terms of opprobrium used by London merchants against the King and his retainers. Unproductive lands were confiscated or enclosed, fostering a more technologically advanced and productive system of agriculture. Mercantileism was crippled, allowing the introduction of the factory system which employed the displaced peasants. Modern society was born in conflict between Royalists and the capitalist Bourgeoisie.

Further decades of conflict led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which reconciled the contradictions and the persons of Nobility and Capitalist. England thus never experienced the French Revolution of 1789, nor the class rebellions of 1848, which led to European Social Democracy, now being viciously undermined by the American mortgage debt crisis, the austerity fiat, and the WTO. But, such forms which were worked out for two centuries under English law did not necessarily apply to the new, and thus lawless United States.

The Capitalist world economy, fueled by slavery, colonialism, the scientific revolution, the bourgeois and democratic revolutions, and Constitutionalism was thus co-extensive with, and largely parent to, the Industrial Revolution. Even with tragic Dickensian immiseration and oppression of the new working class, 14-hour days, child labor, pollutive poisoning and destruction of land and forests, with democratic rebellion and social legislation we in the West have experienced two centuries of a rising standard of living.

Here in America you got Food to eat, won’t have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet. You’ll be as happy as a monkey up a monkey tree; Y’all oughta BE an American.

Sail Away! Sail Away! Across th’ Mighty Ocean into Charleston Bay.

Our present Behemoth, the CORPORATION as such, invented itself in this process. The lawless United States took the lead, freed from the shackles of tradition, Church, existing property relations, demographic, geographic, cultural, legal, and natural restraints, American corporations, especially the railroads out in the wild West, and South, used bribery, legal impunity, systemic violence, private armies, the courts and especially the United States Supreme Court to establish their supremacy, including the insane doctrine of Corporate personhood which required another 125 years to be codified.

Formal democratic institutions, and their substructure of human rights have been employed by the population through fierce, bloody, protracted, wise, and courageous struggles over two centuries in an effort to keep up with our Oppressors, earn a decent standard of living for our children, and lately to try to save our living planet Earth.

The Rise of Neo-Liberal economic power

With the rise of Neo-Liberal economic power, the export of industrial capital, explicitly anti-democratic International Institutions, scapegoating of immigrant and minority populations, perverted religious ideology and power structures, massive imprisonment, indentured servitude of the entire student class, we have experienced 30 years of roll-back of our democratic standing, our earning power, and our human and democratic rights. The traditional once per decade Capitalist Crises were solved in America by military Keynesianism, which employed millions of workers and scientists in the production of WASTE {military hardware}, and which corrupted the democratic working class into nationalism, racist warfare, and a convenient ideology of mindless and divisive patriotism.

The very successes of the working class and oppressed minorities have been masterfully used against them by the ideology of Middle Classism, wherein, the victories gained in intense struggle over centuries have trapped our children into the “Consumerist” class and anti-working class ideology of dollar-worship. This new religion of money, power, and racism, has been installed by the right-wing Anti-Christian mega-churches who teach hatred and fear as their primary mission; Greed is the underpinning corollary.

For four centuries the devouring, oppressive monster of industrial capitalism did, in fact, stimulate a phenomenal increase of goods and services which have entirely transformed our world, with its concomitant vast increase in our material standard of living. Yet the tools used by the working class, which brought about this “sharing” of the feast, have concomitantly increased the democratic footprint within the System itself. Mature Capitalism of a half century ago was evolving into a quite stable, and comfortable social democracy.

Some of the wealthy were fine with this, as long as the super-profits of imperialism extraction and expansion continued to roll in the excess wealth. Its inner contradictions were not yet insurmountable.

The Soviet threat was always useful to justify exploitation at home and proxy wars abroad. But anti-colonial movements threatened abroad; and home movements for human rights and a share of the pie threatened to disturb the rulers’ complacency. AND, as in the person of Malcolm X, these insurrections were beginning to communicate with one another. Even our “Indians” were getting restless. They even took over Alcatraz!

Now, I know that most of you know most of this quite well, and I don’t mean to bore you with pedantry, or stuff you with a plethora of details.

BUT, how did this three-century dynamic morph itself and reverse field so quickly, and WHY?  And what does our consequent world look like NOW?

The Modus Operandi of Industrial Capitalism has always been permanent expansion, and control of the surplus value thus brought about.  Exploitation of labor, resources, Nature, technology, foreign territories, political Power, and financial instruments have always been intrinsic to the process. Countervailing, regulating, democratizing and balancing political forces and structures have tended to mitigate the damage, and to spread the benefits of this complex social system.

In the long run Capitalism will necessarily eat itself, or eat all its necessary resources on a finite planet.  But the Earth is large, and strong, and resilient, so with intelligent employment of mitigating factors, and general acceptance of modest increase, such as a 4% to 10% profit rate in most industries, and an overall 3% expansion of the system, we had lots of time to address the problem with scientific research, less-intrusive technologies, substitution, recycling, a rational taxing system, education, moral constraint on extreme greed, and other creative modalities.

All this changes with NEO-Liberal Economics

Few of these mitigating, humanizing factors are still in the game, and even those are corrupted.
The Mount Pelerin Society was launched in 1938 with keynote speaker Friedrich A. von Hayek, who thought Hitler to be too far to the left, although he was financed by Krupp and Farben, and had imprisoned or killed many thousands of unionists, Socialists, and Communists, liberals and Christians.  Von Hayek thought that workers organizing a democratic union was tantamount to slavery.  This explicit ploy is presently being used by the Governors of Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I doubt that the German Aristocrat, von Hayek, ever worked in a factory.

Seven Hayekian Ideas launched the new movement:

1. Collective bargaining leads the worker into slavery
2. Full employment and low inflation are mutually incompatible
3. Free Trade is beneficent
4. A secure livelihood for those who work is incompatible with FREEDOM
5. Laws guaranteeing effective competition can be made and enforced
6. Free markets guarantee the separation of political power from economic power
7. Markets are “efficient” and have intrinsic conscience and wisdom

This new Neo-Liberalism was launched in the the United States in the 1940s and 50s at the University of Chicago by Friedrich von Hayek and his protege Milton Friedman. It is hard to fault von Hayek’s treatise on individual rights, and of the tendencies toward gridlock in Parliamentary government, which often frustrated the citizens toward the acceptance, and later the worship of, Dictatorship, and further, of Totalitarian structures.

BUT! Pay attention! This gridlock which froze the Weimar Republic leading to Dictatorship and subsequent massacre of 50,000,000 people, is being intentionally reproduced TODAY, in America.  For an even more profound analysis read Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 1923.

Hayek’s philosophical individualism came straight out of Enlightenment thinking with no accounting or concern for the democratic rights of the working and lower classes. They were simply not human, like our teachers now.  One tendency of such thought was Scientism, a worship of data and logic, especially mathematical logic.  This wholesale transfer of physics and math into the social sciences became a religion in the mid 19th Century.  Stanley Jevons in England and later Alfred Marshall in America refined this mathematicism into the dominant ideology which still holds sway.   Most disciplines had recovered from this infantile delusion during the next century, beginning with history and psychology.   But Capitalistic economics saw the quantification of value structures as a way to justify their increasing exploitation of man and Nature, consolidation of wealth for themselves, and the mystifying of the population thus to be used as tools toward a consolidation of political power. The Great God of automatic “Efficiency” was born, and is worshiped today in all departments of economics.

The problem then was the Labor movement, and the Social Gospel movement, an independent free press, and the beginnings of public education, which arose as countervailing powers to alleviate the extreme and increasing brutality of exploitation and political corruption, and began to inspire the voting public. As a century of incremental victories were won, the churches forgot their Christianity and were marshaled into becoming the front line troops, and educative prisons for the money machine.

Von Hayek did recognize in horror the herd instinct, with it’s attendant leaning toward collectivist structures, even among the Liberals of the 30s and 40s. Without notable opposition from his mentor, Milton Friedman, and his political colleague, Leo Strauss, gathered a group of ambitious political proselytes including Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearle. Already the Neo-Libs were taking over the leading economics schools of the Western world: Harvard, London, Oxford, Berkeley, Sorbonne, and actively suppressed any other way of thinking, and any concern for empirical corroboration of their ideology. The Chicago Boys’ economic team worked to create many “financial instruments” which could corrupt and destroy the otherwise stabilizing world economic system.

The mechanisms of Hedge Funds and Derivatives opened the door for later Credit Default Swaps, tranches, toxic bundling, and a plethora of forms of fraudulent dispersal and securitization of financial assets.  Friedman, with Arnold Harberger, trained the Chicago Boys, who prepared and joined the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet in their American-facilitated overthrow of Chilean democracy, and repeated that effort in Brazil. By the mid 70s they began taking over the entire world to eliminate socially responsible democracies and prepare the way for the Uruguay round of GATT, the IMF and World Bank, and the eventual creation of the WTO as private dictator of the terms, bylaws, and procedures of the World economy.  Only extreme violence and foreign military and economic support were able to accomplish this devastation.

The United States is the spearpoint of this rollback of Civilization. That is why we have the Military.

The details of how this has been accomplished is portrayed in tragic detail by John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine.

The Friedmanesque ideology of NeoLiberalism is both a philosophy and a technique. That motive for it arises from the Hayekian fear of collectivism, the fear of anti-colonial struggles, fear of democratization in the home countries by the economic rise of the Unionized working class, and awakened minorities into middle class economic status, and the resentment of the wealthy (mostly white and male) toward being taxed to facilitate this empowerment and perceived affluence of their traditional lessers and enemies.

This not to claim that there were no substantive justifications for their fears, but their traditional racial and class arrogance overrode any serious effort to work out a democratic solution of the problem of humanity, with all our varied historical baggage, cultural distinctions, resources, attitudes and agendas.  They could not see that South Africa was different from Zimbabwe; that Martin Luther King was different from Bigger Thomas; that Allende was different from Stalin; and that an angry, yet humane and sensible, Sukarno was a far better partner to build a humane world than our corrupt and genocidally brutal dictator, Suharto.

The three-century project of Liberal Democracy, paralleled and underpinned by industrial Capitalism, with all it’s obvious flaws and evils, had evolved and matured into a relatively stable, relatively prosperous, relatively humane system, and had created institutions like the UN Human Rights Commission, and the IGY, International Geophysical Year, 1961, which might find a way to democratically address the remaining contradictions.

We really had a chance from about 1955 to 1975. This was the very period during which NeoLiberalism honed it’s skills and grabbed the reins of power, precisely to prevent our human evolution toward a livable and thriving world.

It is true that after Martin Luther King was assassinated, we lost the wise, compassionate, and humanizing focus on the Left, and degenerated into sectarian petty wars for ideological purity, identity politics, and the focus on grabbing a bigger share of the finite pie. This left us gapingly vulnerable to the mystifying racist, machoist, nationalist, anti-workerist, anti-tax purity of the Neo-Liberal ideology.  This ideology, and the secret, treasonable arms deal with Iran, led to the Reagan Revolution, the results of which we see today.  The most obvious results, aside from the world economic crisis and the insane inflicted “austerity solution” which are imposed to destroy the generations of mitigating social programs that democracy had created, are seen in a couple stark graphs. Productivity vs compensation; wealth of 1% vs the median or average income; and union membership vs middle income share of national wealth.

Let’s go back to the foundations of Neo-Liberal economics. In the mid 19th Century the fetish of “scientific” materialism ran rampant, along with the ideology of Individualism and the practice of Imperialism.  The basic idea was that EVERYTHING could be quantified and thus valued in terms of exchange value.  That Mankind was a super-rational maximizing agent of self-interest. Whatever we might choose to value, “purchase,” was, of course, in our best interest, and in the aggregate led to the “Best of all possible worlds.” Thorsten Veblin was the only prominent American economist who disputed such a claim a century past.

A leading modern Neo-Liberal, Hernando de Soto, from Peru, The Mystery of Capital, 2000, explained in great particular, how the codification of property title creates fungible assets which transfer into capital, as such. He articulates how in the wild American West, such forms facilitated the motion and unprecedented growth of such capital, and therefore the Power which follows. He shouts that “If only the poor people of the earth would codify and exchange their intrinsic potential capital in their slum dwellings and crude inventions, they would realize $9 Trillion in real estate, and would thus become rich.”

The only problem is, perhaps Mr. de Soto is wearing blinders and doesn’t know how the System operates, once ANY “property” enters the System, it becomes accessible to the extraction of much of its value by the World trade and banking system, and consequently becomes a hook, liable to indebtedness of the proprietor, who will spend the remainder of his/her days servicing this debt to the masters in New York, or Brussels, or Geneva.


A primary function of NeoLiberalism was to “Globalize” the economy.  Now, just what might this mean?  We have had a globalized economy ever since the triangle Slave trade, which traded human beings for rum, tobacco, and sugar, and for guns with which to capture more slaves. Mono-crop agriculture was developed then by stealing the intellectual property of Africa, whose denizens knew how to grow indigo, and rice, and sugar in large quantities. Well, globalization now means the “race to the bottom,” and the elusion of all potential democratic encumbrances imposed by “sovereign” nations. “tree-hugging” liberals might damage the great American economy by opposing slavery, or 16 hour/day sweatshops, or the killing of union organizers, or the poisoning of rivers.

All this can be blocked by the WTO which makes it “illegal” to hamper “Free” trade. The explicitly anti-democratic governing body of the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, and other such institutions can impose crippling sanctions on the “sovereign” country, or merely pull the plug on investment, thus rendering the object country incapable of refurbishing its factories, unable to sell its produce, buy supplies, or food, or energy products, and liable to military invasion, or assassination of presidents, or overthrow of their government, which Naomi Klein and John Perkins, among many others demonstrate in detail.

Alan Greenspan instituted decades of a policy of slow growth by the Federal Reserve Bank. This mandate included the requirement of high Unemployment, as a disciplining mechanism over the working class. To create such high Unemployment the capitalists and their government enticed in millions of “illegal” immigrants – exactly as they did in the C19 to work their mines and railroads and factories. This policy coincided with Congressional “perks” for export of capital – lower taxes, incentives, protection, “foreign aid” which is mandated to hire American contractors to build infrastructure, and charge the local government in perpetuity for repayment of the “loans,” etc. Earlier racist movements to scapegoat the immigrants like the Know Nothings, the 100%ers, and the Ku Klux Klan, took over a number of states including Colorado, and came near to overthrowing the government in 1925.

Unknown to American citizens, Timothy Geithner was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in 1997. In such capacity he personally delivered the mandate to the WTO meeting in Geneva, regarding its Financial Services Agreement and any “instruments” the capitalist world wishes to dump on vulnerable or unsuspecting countries, like Ireland, or Greece. Almost every country complied. U.S. Treasury Secretary Summers provided Brazil with a $41 Billion bailout loan to keep President Cardoso in office, then pulled the plug. Within 15 days Brazil’s economy went up in flames requiring them to sell state assets, especially oil leases and their national electric system. They were also ordered to sell off their five state banks. After the first bank was sold, costing the Brazilian economy some $44 Billion, 2/3rds of the entire country’s reserve, the President, Cardoso, was un-elected, and the Socialist Workers Party candidate Luis Ignacio Lula de Silva came to office. President Lula refused to sell the remaining four state banks, and Brazil has since recovered, recently growing its economy by 70% and joining China and India as a world powerhouse.  It is interesting that the United States did not then invade Brazil, as is our tradition.  Maybe that is not so easy to do anymore.

Why do we Occupy?

In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln wrote to his friend: We may congratulate ourselves that this cruel war is nearing its end.  It has cost a vast amount of treasure and blood … It has been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of this country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth in aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.  I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of War, God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

In 1870, the historian, Henry Adams, Grandson and great grandson of Presidents, wrote: “The belief is common in America that the day is at hand when corporations … after having created a system of quite but irresistible corruption — will ultimately succeed in directing the government itself. Under the American form of society there is no authority capable of effective resistance … Nor is the danger to America alone. The corporation is in its nature a threat against the popular institutions which are so rapidly spreading over the whole world …. and unless some satisfactory solution of the problem can be reached, popular institutions may yet find their very existence endangered.”

—Strider 1/4/2012

ACLU Distributes New Guide On Religion In Public Schools

From the excellent Religion Clause blog by Howard Friedman

ACLU Distributes New Guide On Religion In Public Schools

The ACLU of Tennessee yesterday released a new guide on religion in schools designed for administrators and teachers. The 4-page document titled Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools, covers a range of issues that commonly arise in school settings, including prayer, holiday celebrations and Bible distribution. A letter accompanying the publication urges superintendents to share the document with principals and teachers.

Here’s the entire text of the PDF linked above:

Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools – A Guide for Administrators and Teachers

Prayer in Classrooms and at Assemblies

The United States Supreme Court has long held that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits school-sponsored prayer or religious indoctrination. Forty years ago, the Court struck down classroom prayers and scripture readings, even if they were voluntary and even if students had the option of being excused. School Dist. Of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963); Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962).

Pledge of Allegiance

The Constitution requires that students’ recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance must be voluntary. Over 60 years ago the United States Supreme Court declared that compulsory flag salute and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance violated an individual’s constitutional right to freedom of expression. “No official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943).

While school officials may encourage students to show respect for our country, they may not require mandatory displays of patriotism. Students have the constitutional right to remain seated and silently respectful during the Pledge of Allegiance, and cannot be otherwise compelled to salute the flag. Students who choose not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance may do so without parental consent. Formal discipline, including detentions and suspen-sions, cannot be imposed for non-participation, nor can other types of non-disciplinary penalties such as reducing grades, requiring transfers to different classrooms, or withholding letters of recommendations.

Distribution of Gideon Bibles

In Berger v. Rensselaer School Corp.¸ 982 F.2d at 1165-66 (7th Cir.), cert. Denied. U.S. 113 S. Ct. 2344 (1993) the court ruled that the Gideons Society practice of distributing Bibles to public school students in fifth grade class-rooms was unconstitutional. The court found both the Gideons in-school presentation as well as the practice of stacking Bibles by the classroom door with the encouragement to take one to violate the Establishment Clause. Although the teachers did not distribute the Bibles, and the students were not required to take a Bible, the court found the practice to be an unconstitutional governmental endorsement of religion. The court noted that the availa-bility of Bibles to students in schools carried the stamp of school endorsement simply because they were made available to students during instructional time and with the permission of the school. The fact that distribution oc-curs during school hours could lead a reasonable student to believe that the school endorses the program.

Equal Access Act

Religious clubs may hold meetings on public high school grounds in accordance with the Federal Equal Access Act as long as other similar non-curriculum related student groups are allowed to meet during non-instructional time; the club does not interfere with regular educational activities; and the school does not initiate, direct, sponsor, par-ticipate in, or promote during instructional time the religious activities of student clubs. Additionally, while faculty are commonly required to be present during student meetings for insurance purposes, their role should be restrict-ed to a custodial, non-participatory role. These measures are in place to ensure the separation of church and state.

Under Federal Law, “nonschool persons may not direct, conduct, control, or regu-larly attend activities of student groups.” 20 U.S.C. 2071 (c) (5). This statute en-sures that the motivation for these meetings is based on genuine student inter-est, rather than a method of outside manipulation by adults for their own pur-poses.

Holiday Celebrations

If public schools hold holiday celebrations, they should make every effort to accommodate diverse faiths during the holiday season. Students cannot be forced to participate in any event that offends his or her beliefs, and school officials should make every effort to accommodate diverse faiths during the holiday season by including their cus-toms, songs and traditional foods at parties and other in-school events. However, assemblies dominated by reli-gious music would raise constitutional concerns.

The United States Supreme Court has determined that schools may celebrate the holidays and create displays as long as they so do within “the context of the Christmas season” and the religious component of their display does not dominate but simply represents one element of a holiday that has obtained secular status in our society. Lynch v. Donnelly, 465.U.S. 668, 679, and 691 (1984). Under this ruling, a Christmas tree would be appropriate while a cross or a nativity scene would not. Crosses and nativity scenes are purely religious symbols that have not gained secular status in our society and therefore may not be displayed in public schools.

Prayer at Athletic Events

In Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 68 U.S. 4525 (2000), the United States Supreme Court ruled that a Texas school district’s policy permitting its student body to vote whether to have prayers before school football games and to elect a student chaplain to deliver the prayers over the loudspeaker violated the Establishment Clause. The Court rejected the argument that the decision to allow students to vote on the question of prayer re-lieved the school district of any constitutional responsibility if the students voted in favor of prayer.

As the Court explained: “[t]hese invocations are authorized by a government policy and take place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events.” Id. at 4529.

The Court also concluded that the school district’s ongoing and unconstitutional purpose had been to preserve the practice of prayer at football games, even though the wording of the school’s policy had changed during the course of litigation to omit any specific reference to “prayer.”

Finally, the Court held that the school district’s policy was facially unconstitutional regardless of the outcome of any particular student vote because it allowed the majority to determine the religious rights of the minority through an election.

The Court wrote: “Such system encourages divisiveness along religious lines and threatens the imposition of coer-cion upon those students not desiring to participate in a religious exercise. Simply by establishing the school-related procedure, which entrusts the inherently nongovernmental subject of religion to a majoritarian vote, a con-stitutional violation has occurred.”

Prayer at School Board Meetings

In Coles ex rel. Coles v. Cleveland Bd. of Educ., 171 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999), a former student and teacher filed action against the Cleveland Board of Education and superintendent, alleging that the board’s practice of opening meetings with a prayer or moment of silence was unconstitutional. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the board’s practice of opening its meetings with a prayer violated the Establishment Clause, finding “the school board’s practice of opening its meetings with prayer leads to excessive entanglement in religious matters…” Id. at 385.

The Court observed that “[t]he very fact that school board meetings focus solely on school-related matters provides students with an incentive to attend the meetings that is lacking in other settings. The board makes policy on a wide range of issues directly affecting a student’s life in school. Be it dress codes, locker searches, changes in the curriculum, or funding for extracurricular activities, school board meetings are the arena in which all issues directly relevant to students are discussed and decided. The fact that the board regularly presents honors and awards to students at its meetings only provides added enticements for students to attend school board meetings. Further-

more, students who wish to challenge their suspension or expulsion from school are required by statute to air their grievances at a school board meeting. For such students, attendance at a board meeting is not a matter of choice, but a matter of necessity.” Id. at 381-2.

Ultimately, the court held that “…the policy of the Cleveland School Board is so inextricably intertwined with the public schools that it must be evaluated on the same basis as the schools themselves.” Id. at 383. Under this analysis the court found that the practice of beginning school board meetings with a prayer was unconstitutional.

Prayer at Graduation

Graduation prayers violate the principle of separation of church and state. In 1992, the Supreme Court held in Lee v. Weisman, 505 U. S. 577 (1992), that prayer – even nonsectarian or nonproselytizing prayer – at public school graduation ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court held that the inclu-sion of prayers as part of a school-sponsored and school-supervised ceremony contravenes the Establishment Clause. The decision was based on the inevitably coercive effect on students and because such religious activities convey a message of government endorsement of religion.

In Lee, the Supreme Court focused on the subtle pressures that accompany any religious exercise conducted as part of a school-sponsored event. The Court held that even though a school district does not require students to attend graduation in order to receive their diplomas, the students’ attendance and participation in graduation exer-cises is “in a fair and real sense obligatory.” Id. at 586.

As the Court observed: “Everyone knows that in our society and in our culture high school graduation is one of life’s most significant occasions…. Attendance may not be required by official decree, yet it is apparent that a stu-dent is not free to absent herself from the graduation exercise in any real sense of the term “voluntary,” for ab-sence would require forfeiture of those intangible benefits which have motivated the student through youth and all her high school years.” Id. at 595.

Because attendance at high school graduation ceremonies is in effect obligatory – and because the ceremonies themselves are an adjunct to, and, in a real sense, the culmination of the public school curriculum – the inclusion of a religious program in graduation ceremonies violates the Establishment Clause.

As the Court stated in Lee: “The prayer exercises in this case are especially improper because the State has in every practical sense compelled attendance and participation in an explicit religious exercise at an event of singu-lar importance to every student, one the objecting student had no real alternative to avoid.” Id. at 598.

Baccalaureate Services

The absence of prayer from a public school’s official graduation ceremony does not prohibit students from affirming their religious beliefs before or after the ceremony. Nothing in Lee or Santa Fe, for example, would prevent or pro-hibit like-minded students from organizing a privately-sponsored baccalaureate service – provided that it was held separately from the school’s graduation program, was entirely voluntary, and was neither sponsored nor super-vised by school officials.

Indeed, the Court went out of its way in Santa Fe to make clear that “nothing in the Constitution as interpreted by this Court prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the school day. But the religious liberty protected by the Constitution is abridged when the State affirmatively sponsors the particular religious practice of prayer.” Contrary to protests voiced by those who desire to use the public schools as a forum for promoting their particular religious beliefs, the Supreme Court’s holdings in Lee and Santa Fe are not anti-religious and do not interfere with the rights of students, guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause, to worship and pray according to the dictates of their own consciences.

Moment of Silence

The quiet time for reflection must neither be intended to promote religious values and conduct nor be used to intro-duce group prayer into public schools. In 1985, the Supreme Court held that a school district may not require that students observe a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day when the purpose of such a requirement is that students use the time for prayer. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 40 (1985).

As long as 1) the moment of silence is free from any direction by school officials, 2) there is no state coercion or element of preference during the moment of silence for a particular religion or for religion in general, and 3) stu-dents are left to meditate, reflect or pray silently as they see fit, the moment of silence does not violate the Estab-lishment Clause. In summary, if the school tells students they may use the moment of silence as they wish, the activity does not violate the Constitution.

The fundamental principle underlying these decisions is that the Constitution commands that public schools may not take sides in matters of religion, and may not endorse a particular religious perspective or any religion at all. The First Amendment prohibits government policies and practices “respecting an establishment of religion, or pro-hibiting the free exercise thereof.” Both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause operate to protect the religious liberty and freedom of conscience of all Americans.

“See You at the Pole”

Organized events such as “See You at the Pole” are permissible under certain conditions. “See You at the Pole” involves prayer meetings held before the start of the school day at a pre-arranged site on school grounds. Similar to guidelines outlined in the Equal Access Act, outside persons may not direct, conduct, control or regularly attend the activities of such student groups. Additionally, schools may not circumvent the ban against school-sponsored prayer by initiating such events and delegating the responsibilities to students, or by obtaining “permission” from parents. Furthermore, schools may not advertise or promote such events within the school either verbally or in writ-ing. Within this framework schools prevent the impression of endorsement, equally respecting the practices of stu-dents of all religions.

Free Exercise of Religion

The ACLU has always defended students’ right to pray individually and voluntarily in school as long as they do not disrupt regular school activities. For example, students may be allowed to read their Bibles on the school bus or pray together before lunch; however, they may not force other students to read along or listen. We also have de-fended the Free Exercise rights of students of many faiths when government officials have interfered with their reli-gious freedom. To cite just a few examples, the ACLU has defended: a high school basketball player in Alabama kicked off the team because he missed Sunday practice in order to attend church; an eighth grader in California barred from wearing a shirt that read “Real Women Love Jesus;” and a Vermont family who refused to provide their child’s Social Security Number to school authorities because of their fundamentalist Christian beliefs.


In conclusion, the state may neither prefer nor prohibit religious exercise but rather must remain neutral. “School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are non-adherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an ac-companying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.’” Santa Fe [citing Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S., at 688 (1984) (O’Connor, J., concurring).]

“The First Amendment’s Religion Clauses mean that religious beliefs and religious expression are too precious to be either proscribed or prescribed by the State. The design of the Constitution is that preservation and transmis-sion of religious beliefs and worship is a responsibility and a choice committed to the private sphere, which itself is promised freedom to pursue that mission.” Coles ex rel. Coles v. Cleveland Bd. of Educ., 171 F.3d 369 (6th Cir. 1999)

Rev. 09/11

For more information, please visit www.aclu-tn.org

School district maneuvers to avoid First Amendment lawsuit

The Douglas County School District has added a new wrinkle to the proposed voucher plan. They now plan to expand eligible private schools to as far as ten miles outside county boundaries. Why would they propose such an unorthodox provision? The answer to that question can be found in the district’s concern over being sued for providing taxpayer dollars to religious schools.

The Douglas County School District has an unusual uniformity in its private schools. Thirteen of the 14 schools within the district are all religious schools. It’s mighty darn hard to argue in court that there is no motivation or intent to support religion when the only voucher choices are faith-based institutions.

The new boundaries substantially increase the number of eligible schools and allow the district to argue that there is no bias, no promotion of religion. These expanded boundaries increase the number of eligible schools from 14 to about 105, changing the percentage of religious schools from nearly 100% to about half.

The district is also hoping to protect itself in court by having a provision for students to opt-out of religious instruction. That sounds reasonable on the surface. However, most Christian schools do not confine themselves to biblical instruction during a confined course of instruction, but instead infuse the entire curricula with their religious positions.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which devotes itself to preserving the Constitutional prohibition in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, has already communicated its serious concerns about the avenue that the Douglas County School District is pursuing. On November 16, 2010, American United sent the district a four-page letter outlining its opposition to the district’s voucher plan. The district would be well-advised to scrap the plan now and spare itself a costly and protracted court battle that in all likelihood it cannot win.

In its letter to the Douglas County school board dated November, 16, 2010, Americans United describes the educational approach of religious schools that would make it impossible to segregate the use of taxpayer funds from religious purposes.

“Most religious schools are part of the ministry of the sponsoring church. Because religious indoctrination is an important part of these ministries, the schools integrate religion throughout their curriculum and require all students to receive religious instruction and attend religious services. Thus, there would be no way to prevent the publicly funded vouchers from paying for these institutions’ religious activities and education. The vouchers would be unrestricted in their use and would pay for all aspects of a religious education, including worship, proselytization, and religious items such as Bibles.”

As an alternative to prevent this or any other voucher plan, State Senator Evie Hudak, who is vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, may seek an amendment to bar the use of state funds for vouchers in the school-finance bill.

Those who are elected to school boards have a responsibility from a number of perspectives to provide for superior public education of the students it serves. It is unacceptable, indeed reprehensible, to use those positions to advance religious instruction or pursue privatization of education whether by voucher, by charter schools or by facilitating home schooling.

Parents who object to or are dissatisfied with public education already have the option to chose alternative schools. However, they are not entitled to public funds for those purposes. Those dollars are a public pact for public education amongst generations past and present, with or without school-age children, for the betterment of our civil and secular society. There has never been, nor should there ever be, a personal or individual entitlement to any of these funds.

Incrementalism in public education

There's more below the surface

There is an interesting controversy at the St. Vrain Valley School District concerning the approval of two new charter schools. According to the district’s accountability and accreditation committee Lotus School of Excellence and Skyview Charter School fail to meet the minimum standards for approval.

As a former teacher, parent and grandparent, I recognize the importance of a superior education. The institution of free public education to all children in the United States is something that we should treasure – forever.

A public education serves many purposes. It provides the foundation necessary to succeed in a complex society. I am reminded of the saying that “we learn to read in order that we might read to learn.” It prepares us for citizenship, not just as Americans but as citizens of a larger world.

As a society we have concluded that an educated population is of benefit to all of us and accordingly we have agreed to tax ourselves to achieve this. Regardless of age or family status education benefits us individually and collectively.

Raising and educating children has always been and will always be a challenge. We are all of us individuals with differing levels of intellect and talent. We learn through different methods and we have individual interests.

As Americans we have had many choices to educate our children. We can send them to public schools, private schools or religious schools. If we choose the latter two, any costs associated with those choices are our individual responsibility.

In recent decades public charter schools have gained cachet. Declining student performance has caused us to examine reasons and solutions. That is as it should be. However, there is an absence of purity of purpose in our efforts. Superior performance should be the only goal, but that is not and perhaps never has been the sole motivation behind this changing emphasis.

As such, the move toward public charter schools needs to be examined for motives beyond a high quality education.

One of the underlying motives for pushing charter schools is a hatred of teachers unions by some individuals and segments of our society. Our public school teachers have been demonized simply because they belong to a union. Certainly there are good and bad teachers as there are good and bad electricians, plumbers, accountants, lawyers, analysts, financial advisors, and so on. That will always be the case. However, the quality of our teachers is only one component of poor pupil performance, and very probably not the most important component. The student, the parent, peers and broader societal conditions all bear some responsibility.

Americans are resistant to change, especially sudden and drastic change. They have demonstrated that over and over again. For this reason, we need to be especially concerned about incrementalism, movement in slow and subtle steps to an outcome that would not be acceptable if it were to take place all at once.

There are those whose goal is to privatize all education. There are those who seek tax credits and/or vouchers for private, religious and homeschooling. All of this flies in the face of our agreed upon social goals and the reasonable sharing of the cost.

In the case of Lotus School of Excellence there is a further complicating issue. Lotus plans to rent space at LifeBridge Christian Church, located in unincorporated Boulder County just north of Highway 66.

The Times-Call has had two articles this week on the controversy of approving the applicants. Several readers commented on the articles. Amongst them is Matt Yapanel, president of the board of directors of Lotus.

He writes the following about the relationship between Lotus and LifeBridge.

Charter schools get around 30% less funding then regular public schools. That’s why we have to be extremely careful with our spending. Creating an efficiently run school is the goal and we make even pennies count toward improving student achievement. With less money, most charter schools are providing better opportunities for their students. I can tell you that we have achieved this in our Aurora campus which was a previous church/private school facility. When we leased space from the church, they were in financial trouble; they had another project to build and move but were not able to sell their existing facility. As a charter school, that facility was very suitable for us to serve as our permanent campus. We purchased the facility, co-existed in the building sharing the mortgage payments in which time Lotus improved its enrollment to fully support the facility when the church has moved out. Meanwhile church has built their great new home and moved there ultimately. Both entities got what they needed to the best possible extent; it was a win-win situation for both parties. Lotus took over the full facility this year and opened an elementary school to serve 610 students, 65% of which are free-reduced lunch eligible and 80% are minority students. Because of the shared use of the space, we saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, which we put right back into the classroom. Therefore, sharing space with a church is a fiscally very responsible move. We are a public school simply sharing space with a church, that’s what most charter schools do as they establish their program and work to acquire a permanent campus. It is challenging to be able to pay for a facility when you get 30% less dollars. However it is not the quality or appearance of the facility that matters, it is the programs running in that facility that matters the most.

Although Mr. Yapanel was speaking about the Aurora situation, those who are aware of circumstances surrounding LifeBridge will see strong similarities in both situations.

LifeBridge mortgaged it’s properties at Highway 66 and those in Weld County between Union Reservoir and Highway 119 for $26 million dollars in July of 2007. They planned to build a waterfront community of homes with a substantial religious campus as well as commercial enterprises. Their intent was to annex the Weld County properties to Longmont. There is also a history of attempts to annex to Longmont the church’s existing facilities and properties. None of those efforts came to fruition because of resistance within the Longmont community for many reasons and from many interests.

In December of 2009 LifeBridge refinanced its debt to the Church Development Fund (CDF) and turned approximately half of its Weld County properties over to CDF as deeds in lieu of foreclosure. The LifeBridge project was derailed by the economic conditions that have resulted in massive declines in both residential and commercial development, amongst other changing financial circumstances.

With LifeBridge in need of money and Lotus in need of a location, the two entities have joined forces. One of the concerns that the St. Vrain Valley School District with which it is wrestling is indirectly supporting the financial needs of LifeBridge Church through taxpayer dollars that would go to support Lotus. This is a slippery slope towards violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

If Lotus can overcome its low score in the accreditation assessment, it would do well to find a location other than a church to house its school. In today’s economic situation, I’m confident that there are options for its location that would not place the SVVSD in the precarious position of de facto supporting a church.

All of us with a concern for the education of our children, need to take a step back and ask further: Are charter schools really the answer to our needs or are they a step towards privatization? If our schools are substantially privatized, what happens to the education of those who cannot afford private tuition? If tax dollars are used to support school privatization as they are in so many other instances, who then decides what is taught and how it is taught?

There is a place for public, private and religious schools. But only public education deserves taxpayer support. We can fix what’s wrong without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Trading one addiction for another

If you'll swallow alcohol, you'll swallow anything

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard it, or who said it, but it was so to the point that I never forgot it: “The only thing worse than a recovering alcoholic is a born again recovering alcoholic.”

My best guess is that it was a close friend who in the 80s was a 25-year recovering alcoholic. Fortunately, he was not “born again” and had the depth and insight to recognize not just the addiction that he broke and fought against each day (as he would describe the true state of a recovering alcoholic), but the fundamental nature and condition that forever drives an addict.

What brings this to mind is a column by Kathleen Parker, “Hi, my name is Glenn, and I’m messed up.”

Given that I find Glenn Beck potentially certifiably insane and waste as little time as possible on what he says and does, I was unaware of his “history.” As I read Parker’s piece, the discovery that Beck has a history of alcoholism and drug addiction provided one of those “a hah” moments where not only does the subject come into focus, but so does an entire range of others with “troubled” backgrounds who have gravitated to religion, and specifically evangelism.

Parker begins by saying that “the real meaning [of Beck’s tent-less revival] may have been hiding in plain sight.” The event had all the elements of a 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program wrapped up in one event. But as is the case with so many recovering addicts, “taking others along for the ride…is also part of the cure. The healed often cannot remain healed without helping others find their way.”

And that’s where the “born again” evangelical Christianism comes in. They are compelled to “save” the rest of humanity – whether or not humanity wants it or needs it.

With the benefit of 60+ years of life experience behind me, I could appreciate Parker’s observation that “it seems that people talk about God all the time these days.” As a transplant to Longmont, I remain stunned at the number of letters to the editor that appear in the Times-Call that are little more than a religious sermon, not to mention the amount of coverage the Times-Call devotes to religious issues in its coverage.

Parker wrote that even in the heyday of Billy Graham, “…most Americans could get through 16 or so waking hours without feeling compelled to declare where they stood on the deity.” Coming from the relatively conservative state of Indiana, I can attest that in fact this was the case during my first three decades in that state – at least by comparison to Longmont and Colorado.

Those with an addiction often trade one addiction for another. Or if they have more than one, keep the other. My friend was well aware that he was and always would be an addict, so he made a choice. He continued to smoke, even though it would eventually contribute to his death.

But some recovering addicts get carried away with this “higher power” thing. They transfer their addiction to “God.” If you delve into the backgrounds of many evangelicals, you will find a history of alcohol or drug addiction. The leaders behind the Heaven Fest event in Longmont in July readily admit their histories of addiction. Since they were saved – presumably by God – they have a compulsion to inflict their new-found addiction on all others. They even felt compelled to devote 24/7 prayer days to members of Longmont’s city council. Presumably they were praying for these council members to be instruments of God as they defined him.

So far we still have no formal religion test for holding public office, although that may soon crumble if we as a nation don’t get a grip on ourselves. And because it’s about religion, no one dare find fault with the obsessions of evangelicals. Or so it seems. But it’s no accident that freedom of religion and freedom of speech occur in combination in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. You do not need permission to challenge, criticize or analyze. It is your right.

So as you run across the Glenn Becks of the world, applaud them for the demon they have conquered, but remind them that even God can become an addiction, if not a demon, if they allow it.

City of Longmont violates First Amendment

Baum and friends have no respect for your rights

Stand up, Speak Out!

On Wednesday July 28, 2010, the City of Longmont received a letter from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. The letter indicates that a complaint has been registered with Americans United because the city “has provided a fee waiver, to ‘Worship and the Word Movement, Inc.’ for the administrative and operational costs that will be incurred by the Longmont Police Department for the group’s event ‘Heaven Fest 2010’…”

Americans United informs the City “that it is unconstitutional for the City to provide a benefit, such as a fee waiver to a religious organization when the City does not provide the same benefit to other organizations.”

An Open Records Request earlier in the year revealed that the Longmont Police Department (LPD) has a standard contract that requires special events to reimburse the LPD $50 per hour for administrative and coordination fees.

Emails between the LPD and Valeria Skitt, Longmont City Clerk, reveal that the Police Department abandoned the charges when Skitt emailed Commander Jeffrey Satur saying , “These numbers seem like a bit much given that they aren’t requesting officer assistance, we are requiring it.” The email went on to say, “This will come as a really big surprise to them at this late stage of the game.”

Commander Satur explained in a subsequent email “why we charge for our administrative costs.” He said, “These meetings are time consuming and take away from our primary duties. As such, at a time when resources were scarce, we felt it important for the event coordinators, not the tax payers, to pay for this loss.”

As of February 26, 2010, Commander Satur indicated to Ms. Skitt that the Longmont Police Department had devoted “at least 10 hours of planning.” He said that he did not “know how many planning meeting we have left, but I’m thinking 20-25 hours.” The cost for the hours devoted and the expressed estimate amounted to $1,750.00.

The License Agreement between the city and Heaven Fest was signed on March 9, 2010, and did not included charges for administrative costs. Subsequent to the execution of the Agreement, the Longmont Police Department spent considerable time between March and June developing the Traffic Plan for the event with the Weld County Sheriff’s Department and the State Patrol.

An email from the City Clerk indicated that no amendments to the original License Agreement were executed.

The letter from Americans United cites several cases in support of the complaint.
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ‘mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”

Americans United asks that the City “take steps to ensure that this fee is either applied equally to all events, religious and non-religious alike, or that it is not applied to any event.” If the first option is selected, the city would need to “rescind the waiver and collect all applicable fees for ‘Heaven Fest 2010.’”

Mayor Bryan Baum and Mayor ProTem Gabe Santos are in Japan until August 3rd. At its Regular Session council meeting on Tuesday, July 27th, Council Member Sean McCoy was chosen to act on behalf of the City in the absence of Baum and Santos.

When asked about the letter, Acting Mayor McCoy responded, “The Constitution is the nation’s fundamental document. All elected officials have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. The city takes this matter seriously and will work to resolve any issue that may exist.”

Americans United expects the City of Longmont to respond to its letter within thirty days.

According to its website, Americans United “is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”

The author of this article is the complainant in this matter.

What if ancestors had a better grasp of the natural world?

Science, not faith, determines how the real world operates” by Richard Juday is a letter to the editor that ran only in the print version of the Times-Call and is reproduced at FRL with Mr. Juday’s permission. – FRL

Letter to the editor of the Times Call from Peter Gifford reproduced by permission of the author.

Hunter gatherers

Would society be different if they understood the physical world more?

Richard Juday’s piece and its responses bring to mind a question I’ve asked myself: If I alone could go back in time — only once — and do anything I wanted, what would I do?

I could put myself just outside the door of Jesus’ tomb when the stone was moved, clarify the Second Amendment, kill Hitler, establish Israel in a way that didn’t enrage Muslims, prevent JFK’s assassination or stop the 9/11 attacks.

But I always return to this: I would somehow convince prehistoric humankind that the sun, moon, stars, weather, seasons, beasts, trees, mountains, rivers, oceans, even earthquakes and volcanos, are all natural phenomena and not caused by spirits.

Would we still have religion today? Almost certainly, in some form. It seems like the human genome includes an indelible sequence for self doubt. Many of us would still be unable to cope, just among each other, with random misfortune and disaster, evil in others, our own personal failings, the world’s ills, being the highest known form of life or the age-old question “why am I here?” They’d need something more.

Would we still have nations and wars? Probably, but perhaps only for land, water and riches, without crusades, inquisitions, genocide or jihad. Would we still have rich and poor, vice and virtue, crime and punishment? Undoubtedly, but perhaps without so much arrogance, prejudice and intolerance.

Would we still have wondrous art, music, science and charity? Absolutely. Innate human talent, genius and altruism will always insist on expressing itself, like a weed breaking through concrete, religion notwithstanding.

But if our prehistoric ancestors had devised an explanation for their world that relied on even an inkling of actual nature, rather than the metaphysical, we’d all be a whole lot better off today.

Peter Gifford

Science, not faith, determines how the real world operates

Composite by Doug WrayRecently, Leif Bilen wrote about a purported anti-Christian bias in the media. I’ll respond as a scientist and technologist.

Briefly: I am a realist in the sense that I am more likely to believe what’s observable and non-miraculous than the contrary. I have problems with some of Christianity’s influence on our society, and I think it healthy for the media to examine its role. We should found our society on what works within our psychology, our economy on what is useful and sells and our science on what is demonstrably true.

I’ll focus on tax exemption, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), evolution, intolerance, freedom of religion – well, OK, that’s not very focused. But I’ll try to make this locally significant and practical.

I don’t mind anyone’s religious view differing from mine so long as it remains private, I don’t have to support it and it does not work against social benefit. But I do object to being required to support others’ religious beliefs – especially those professing demonstrably false “facts” and influencing our kids.

Abuses of religious tolerance abound in our society. To gain tax-exempt status, an organization need only claim to be a religion, and then the resources of the community are marshaled to its support (think fire, police, streets, utilities, etc.).

The Religious Land Use and institutionalized Persons Act says that a civil authority may not challenge the organization’s self-determination as to what portions of its holdings are put to exempted use. We have seen this recently in Longmont, when LifeBridge said it would pay all required taxes (itself a pretty useless statement) but would not negotiate with the city to nail down exactly what that meant. Indeed, even before the annexation recall petition, we heard mention of the “sports ministry” that seemed to be leading the way to avoid taxes on a really valuable venue. I hope Firestone has been paying attention.

I know Christians who would like to see the Ten Commandments become law. But the first four are about religion’s sustaining itself. Only six codify behavior. We evolved as a family (tribal/ communal social animal, and it is as effective to follow Rodney King: Act so that we can all get along together. We don’t require divine inspiration to know how to behave.

It’s almost too easy a target. Christianity is associated now, and in the past, with serious fallacies, abuses of power and social misbehavior (crusades, inquisition, Copernican theory, Galileo, child abuse and cover up … ). A problem is that religion fosters closed social groups with god-given higher status, the right to look down on others as less worthy and exploitable. Even today, there are U.S. communities where one can’t be elected if non-Christian.

But a real problem of personal significance to me is an anti-science attitude. It seems narrowed to evolution, but an attack on evolution is an attack on all science, since the very method is called into question: observe, hypothesize, experiment. Rinse and repeat. Build a theory. Use it. It’s truly said that nothing in biology makes sense except in view of evolution.

Yet a loud (and well-funded) subset of Christians attacks evolution because it conflicts with their scientifically unsupportable – and actually demonstrably false – beliefs. I’ll put my faith in what’s read in the rocks, stellar spectra and genomes where it conflicts with what an agrarian society wrote a few thousand years ago.

Science determines how the world works. (If you must, science determines the rules God set up.) Then technology puts those laws to our use. However fervently the Brits might have prayed, building the Spitfire did more to win the Battle of Britain than all the praying did – I sure know which of them I would put my faith in.

Similarly, it is not seminarians, philosophers and English majors whose work underpins medicine at Longmont United Hospital and AMGEN, storage at Seagate, zymurgy at Left Hand Brewing. It’s the scientists and technologists.

If we’re to cease borrowing our way into temporary semblance of wealth, and if we are to make stuff to sell abroad to do that, then let’s not hamstring our youths’ education by filling their heads with mythology to the exclusion of facts. Even as the largest selling book, the Bible is not really an economic engine.

Richard Juday has resided in Longmont for nine years.

Texas embarasses U.S. with “Trojan horse” textbooks

United Kingdom’s The Guardian writes a detailed report on the rewriting of U.S. history by the Texas school board with lessons promoting God and guns, sidelines Thomas Jefferson and drops references to slave trade.

“Texas buys millions of text books every year, giving it considerable sway over what publishers print. By some estimates, all but a handful of American states rely on text books written to meet the Texas curriculum. The California legislature is considering a bill that would bar them from being used in the state’s schools.”

Read more