'All for ourselves and nothing for other people' seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. -Adam Smith "All the 'truth' in the world adds up to one big lie." Bob Dylan "Idealism precedes experience, cynicism follows it." Anon

December 14, 2011

Respecting a Child's Point of View

Chain The Dogma       December 14, 2011

Respecting a Child's Point of View         

Kids would rather play than pray

by Perry Bulwer

“This post is part of a series inspired by the Prevent Abuse of Children Today (PACT) campaign, hosted by Stepping Stones Nigeria. Please add your name to the PACT petition to prevent abuse of innocent children in the Niger Delta and visit the site to find out more: www.makeapact.org

An Australian professor of child and family health nursing, Cathrine Fowler, caused a minor controversy this past August when she suggested that sitting babies faced forward in pushchairs or carrying them in slings in that position is selfish, may stunt their development and causes unnecessary stress which can turn them into anxious adults. She said:  "In not considering our baby’s perspective, we are inadvertently quite cruel to children."

That insight goes far beyond the practical question of how best to push or carry a baby, and into the legal territory of the 'best interests of the child' standard, which is the guiding principle of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention). It is important to keep in mind that the best interest of a child is also the best interest of the adult that child will become, so that standard protects not just children, but adults as well. If an inadvertent failure to consider a child's point of view can cause harm in such a pedestrian matter as the correct position to carry them, then far greater harm, even death, can be caused by parents who deliberately act to subsume their child's rights and perspective. And that is exactly what religious parents do when they indoctrinate their children so that they conform to their beliefs. Indoctrinating children into one religion before they are capable of making their own free and informed decision whether to believe or not is a direct denial of their human rights. Protecting the right to religious freedom for children, which includes freedom from religion, is one of the best ways to protect that right for adults.

All children are born atheists. If allowed to develop without having a belief system imposed on them through constantly reinforced direct and/or cultural indoctrination, most children eventually reach the stage where they abandon belief in fantastical figures. Given the time of year I'm writing this, Santa Claus is a perfect example of that, and belief in God would follow that pattern too if children were free to grapple with belief in the supernatural on their own without interference from dogmatic adults.  Unfortunately, most children in the world are not allowed to exercise their inherent human right to develop free from religious impositions. However, I am certain that if given a free choice unhindered by dogma or superstition, all children would prefer playing to praying.

Kids just want to have fun and be happy, which is their right recognized in Article 31 of the Convention:

Article 31
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Many children never get the chance to play and have fun, however, let alone enjoy their own right to religious freedom. The unlucky ones are burdened with supernatural religious beliefs, either imposed on them or targeted against them. In extreme cases,  children who have religion forced on them are denied even the most simple childhood pleasures. Some are forced to become adults before their time. Parents indoctrinate them with their own beliefs that forbid playing with toys or riding bikes,  or deny educational opportunities, or worst of all reject medical care; religious groups target them for unethical proselytising  or exorcisms; and child-traffickers abduct, maim and murder them for body parts used in witchcraft rituals.

I recently wrote an article arguing that corporal punishment by parents is an abuse of authority  and an infringement of children's rights. In the course of that argument, I touched on the issue of a child's right to religious freedom. It is an important point that is worth repeating over and over, because although all countries except for the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention, the denial of religious freedom for children is still rampant around the world. Here is what I recently wrote about Article 14 of the Convention, which sets out a child's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion:

Article 14 is crucial for establishing the proper balance between parental and children's rights. Clearly, children have the right to freely form their own thoughts and conscience, and choose their own religious beliefs, or none. After all, freedom of religion for children, and for adults, would be no freedom at all if it did not include the right to be free from religion. Since parents also have the right to the same freedoms, it is inevitable that conflicts between those rights will arise. As it must and does throughout, the Convention sides with children. Sub-section 2 clearly states that the rights and duties of parents in this regard must not be directed towards protecting their own freedoms, but towards ensuring their children are able to exercise their personal religious rights in accordance with their evolving capacities. Anticipating objections from parents who only read the first few words in sub-section 2 and insist that their own religious freedom gives them a right to indoctrinate their children, sub-section 3 clarifies that the right to religious freedom is not absolute. A parent's right to religious freedom does not give them the right to deny that same freedom to their child, regardless of the child's age. Or, as the U.S. Supreme Court famously said: "Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves."
That quotation also touches on the principle of the "evolving capacities of the child" as well as the concept of a child's right to an open future. That is a right that is not specifically set out in the Convention, but is implied in this Article and elsewhere. After all, if a parent makes an irreversible religious decision on behalf of their child, such as to rely on faith alone and refuse necessary medical treatment and the child dies, then that child has no future at all. Circumcision of both boys and girls is another common example of a religious decision made by parents that causes irreversible harm to children. But even where death or injury does not occur, a child's right to an open future can still be easily denied them through indoctrination that cuts off their capacity for critical thinking and ability to freely form their own thoughts, conscience and beliefs.
If a child is indoctrinated into a particular religious dogma by authoritarian parents from the earliest age, their right to freedom of expression and information denied through restrictive, narrow-minded 'education', and they are unaware of the full extent of their human rights, it becomes impossible for them to exercise those rights, either as a child or later as an adult. I have encountered countless believers who are so unaware of their own rights that they insist that religious freedom does not include the right to be free from religion. But if the right to freedom of religion has any meaning at all, it must mean that everyone, including children, is free to choose their own religious beliefs or none. When that freedom is denied to a child, it is also denied to the adult that child will become. Protecting a person's rights while they are a child is the only to way to protect that person's rights once they are an adult. That's what a child's right to an open future means, reaching adulthood with their capacity to exercise all their rights still intact. Protecting the full range of children's rights protects human rights for everyone.

Imagine, John Lennon exhorted, a world where there is no religion to kill or die for. That would be a world where all children were truly free to be children -- to play, laugh and have fun without fear or threat.

A child is forced to be a Hindu
A child is forced to be a Jew

A child is forced to be a Buddhist
A child is  forced to be a  Zoroastran
A child is forced to be a Sikh

A child is forced to be a Mormon

A child is forced to be a Muslim

A child is forced to be a Scientologist

A child is forced to be a Christian

A father tortures his child as a witch 


Child sacrifice: a review of the documentary All God's Children - the ultimate sacrifice

Corporal Punishment, the Abuse of Authority and the Rights of Children


  1. Let the kids believe in Santa

    Atheists shouldn’t crush the magic of Christmas

    by Myra Zepf, NewHumanist.org

    ... Regardless of whether the story is of Father Christmas, the “Christkind” (the winged baby Jesus who flies through windows in Germany), or “La Befan”, (a good witch who flies on her broomstick down Italian chimneys), these myths are united both in their capacity to instill spine-tingling excitement, and by the bald fact that they all require us to lie to our offspring. And let’s be clear here. This is no tiny white lie like telling Aunty Polly you like the scarf she knitted for you. This isn’t an attempt to insulate someone from hurt feelings, or even an oversimplification of the truth. It is a bare-faced and unnecessary lie, and one that weaves an increasingly elaborate web of deceit with each passing year.

    Humanist parenting stands apart from other parenting styles in one very significant way. It champions respect for the developing intellect of the child and encourages critical assessment of the world around them in logical, rational, unmagical ways. We teach them to look for evidence to test the veracity of ideas and concepts. It is completely understandable, therefore, that many humanist parents reject the dubious practice of inventing an omniscient supernatural being, especially one who judges and rewards children for their behaviour. And as if presenting a fictional character as real wasn’t bad enough, we then proceed to provide hard “evidence” of his existence. Answered letters, half-eaten mince pies and of course the presents themselves. Our deceit is so complete that, even upon scientific evaluation, Father Christmas seems to exist. If not downright unethical, it is certainly anathema to the principles we hold so dear for the rest of the year.

    So why don’t I feel remorse or contradiction? Why do I not only perpetuate this lie, but positively wallow in it every year? To be honest, it simply brings us lots and lots of pleasure and seems to chime so perfectly with my kids at that age. Up until the age of seven or eight, fantasy and reality are inextricably intertwined for children. As yet, they lack the perspective and the abstraction required to make these distinctions properly. I adore the way they naturally dip in and out of the ridiculous and serious, the rational and the magical. There is scope for infinite fun, creativity and learning in this world of make-believe. And it passes so very quickly.

    I have just watched my daughter, now eight, as she emerged from this fantastical wonderland into the phase of reason. The questions about Santa came first in a trickle and then in a torrent. They were incisive and intelligent. “How could Santa’s sleigh carry so many presents? There must be thousands of Santas to get around the world like that, but even then, flying reindeer are impossible. I mean, if magic exists, then it wouldn’t be only for Santa. Mum, the tooth fairy’s not real either, is it?” I sat back and listened to the workings of a healthy and maturing brain with satisfaction, sharing in her pride and glee at her own intellectual achievement.

    Whether or not to enact the Santa myth is a very personal decision and one that every parent must make according to their own conscience. But to those, like me, who decide to suspend disbelief and to effectively ride a sleigh and reindeer through common sense and reason, I hope I may suggest a few caveats. ...

    read the rest of this article at:


  2. Polygamy and me: Growing up Mormon

    By Maggie Rayner, Special to The Sun December 16, 2011

    When my family lived in Richmond, a group of Mormon fundamentalists from Bountiful, near Creston, visited our mainstream Mormon congregation extolling the practice of polygamy, also called the principle or plural marriage. They were looking for wives to add to their collections. They targeted families who had young girls.

    My oldest sister at 16, with blond hair, blue eyes and a blossoming body, was a magnet for the young men and 19-year-old missionaries of the Church. One Sunday after Sunday school, I watched an older man from Bountiful rush over in the parking lot to open our station wagon door for her. He left the wife he had with him struggling to open their car door on her own, a baby on her hip, a diaper bag over her shoulder, and two toddlers clinging to her legs. I was 10 years old. I giggled at his ardour, finding his behaviour ridiculous, while a queasiness roiled in my stomach.

    My parents weren’t swayed by the arguments to take up a polygamous lifestyle and my two sisters and I were saved from the principle.

    Even so, my mother explained, “Polygamy is a hardship for men.” This did not make any sense to me.

    My mother told me Joseph Smith introduced polygamy in the 1830s, soon after he founded the Mormon Church, because of the shortage of men and the abundance of women. “There were a lot of widows and older women immigrants, that worked as housekeepers and servants, joining the Church,” she said, “It was practical for the men to take more than one wife to ensure the older women were taken care of.”

    The Church’s current position on polygamy, not widely known among younger Mormons, let alone non-members, is that God suspended the practice and temporarily disallowed plural marriage to spare the membership legal and political problems. The president in Salt Lake City, considered a living prophet by members today, could, at any time, give the word, and Latter-day Saint men would once more be called upon to marry multiple wives. ...

    While I was growing up, the books I read were censored, limited to Church-approved literature. My parents dedicated themselves to breaking my child’s spirit to accept their beliefs. The friendships I was permitted and the activities I could pursue were all closely monitored. They were unsuccessful. While I was physically present at the services and activities I was forced to attend under fear of punishment, my mind refused to be taken prisoner.
    When I left home and had the freedom to question, and seek out history books not sanctioned by the Church, I read with astonishment, and a growing sadness for my mother’s and father’s gullibility, of the chronological events surrounding the introduction of plural marriage. ...

    My mother wouldn’t have known what a sex addict was or how to recognize one. While she was growing up, there was little, if any, information available about sexuality. The anatomically correct names used to describe intimate parts of the body weren’t common knowledge. Frank discussion of carnal desire or marital relations did not take place. She told me the intimacies of married life came as a surprise to her on their three-day honeymoon in Calgary, after she married my father in the Cardston temple.

    I can’t, as a result, fault my mother for believing Smith was following godly direction rather than earthly appetites. She simply didn’t have the knowledge or experience to make informed decisions on what she was taught, and therefore believed, without question.

    Whether the same can be said for my father, I don’t know. He held the highest level of priesthood conferred, only on men, by the Mormon Church, and the respected position of a bishop with his own congregation. ...

    Maggie Rayner lives in Vancouver.

    read the full article at:


  3. Imagine my surprised delight to discover that an article by an angry Christian fundamentalist connected me, a relatively unknown blogger, with some of the most famous atheists in the world today. What an honour it was to read my name along side Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, who all have made the list of the 50 Top Atheists in the World Today; see


    All of us, and other atheists mentioned in the article want to protect children from religious harm, but the author, Don Hays, insists on the right to violate the rights of children because of his religious delusions. You can read Don Hays' ridiculous rant rife with lies and personal attacks, in which he includes a quotation from my article above, at


    He does not link to any of the atheists he cites and he does not allow any comments unless you first register. Apparently he does not want any of his readers to be confused with facts. But if Don Hays had done a little bit more research he would have discovered my article above.

    If Hays had read this article with an open, honest mind (I realize that's asking a lot of a fundamentalist) he would realize I believe in religious freedom for everyone, especially children. Hays' problem, like so many other dangerous dogmatists is that he does not understand the simple concept of religious freedom, which necessarily includes the right to be free from religion. The real enemies of religious freedom are fundamentalists, not atheists.

  4. Report names 50 worst countries for Christian persecution

    Ecumenical News International January 6, 2012

    The international Christian organization Open Doors released its annual World Watch List this week, naming the 50 countries where it says Christians face the worst persecution. For the first time in the 20 years that the list has been compiled, the situation for Christians did not improve in any country, Open Doors said. For the tenth year running, North Korea topped the list. Open Doors reported that Christianity has been driven so far underground in North Korea that parents wait until their children are old enough to understand the dangers of practicing their faith before teaching them about it. The organization also estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are currently interned in labor camps.


    Comment by Perry Bulwer: Christianity is inherently dangerous for children, and much Christian persecution is committed by Christians against their own children or against other Christians. No child should be taught about Christianity until they are old enough to understand that dogmatic belief can be extremely detrimental, even deadly.

  5. Americans Should Protest Nigerian Witch-Hunter's Visit

    by Michael Mungai, Huffington Post January 11, 2012

    If you live in the U.S. and you are:

    •In bondage
    •Having bad dreams
    •Under a witchcraft attack or oppression
    •Possessed by mermaid spirits or other evil spirits
    •Barren and having frequent miscarriages
    •Experiencing an unsuccessful life of disappointment
    •Experiencing financial impotency with difficulties
    •Facing victimization and a lack of promotion
    •Experiencing a stagnant life with failures

    ...You need not wait for too long. Helen Ukpabio, a Nigerian evangelist, will be traveling to the United States in March where she will be preaching in Texas. All ye people in the U.S. who have been struggling with the possession of mermaid spirits no longer have to be like fish out of water, someone's finally coming to shore you up.

    While it is laughable that there are credulous people in this world who believe in such fishy claims, the real issue that should trouble every American is that their impending guest is also a notorious child-witch hunter. Ukpabio alleges that Satan constantly manifests himself in the bodies of children through demonic possession, turning them into witches and wizards. Condemned as witches, these children are splashed with acid, buried alive, immersed in fire or expelled from their communities. According to Nigerian humanist campaigner Leo Igwe, Ukpabio "is a Christian fundamentalist and a Biblical literalist. She uses her sermons, teachings and prophetic declarations to incite hatred, intolerance and persecution of alleged witches and wizards." Ukpabio, we learn from Igwe, claims to be an ex-witch, who later founded her own church to pursue her "anointed mission" of delivering people from witchcraft. Her ministry's services include deliverance sessions that identify and cast out demons. Her church has extended witch- hunting branches all over Nigeria and even to other countries.

    This won't be Ukpabio's first trip to the United States. In her last visit to Houston, Texas in 2010, she defended herself by arguing that her critics pick on her because she is an African. She cited J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series, arguing that if Westerners do not take Rowling's work seriously, then she (Ukpabio) is a hapless victim of Western racism. However, while Rowling's readers tend to buy brooms, hats and "magic wands" for their children to play with, parents inspired by Ukpabio are more likely to buy machetes and physically confront the alleged demons living in their children's bodies. Also, citing Western interference and racism has now become the mantra for many unscrupulous Africans pursuing self-serving ends. They unfairly take advantage of Africa's injurious history with the West, a topic that elicits sentimental reactions from most Africans whenever it is invoked.

    "If a child under the age of two screams in the night, cries and is always feverish with deteriorating health, he or she is a servant of Satan," Ukpabio writes in her book, Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft. In many rural African settings, these symptoms are common in almost all babies. In a country where more than 10 percent of children die before they reach five years, what these babies need is immediate medical attention. By instructing gullible Nigerian parents to persecute their own children, she continues to enrich herself, through her books and remittances from exorcisms. In this, she joins the growing list of televangelists who are fleecing poor Africans all over the continent, promising "miracles" for a fee.

    continued in next comment:


  6. continued from previous comment:

    I first learned of her nefarious campaign in the heartbreaking documentary, Dispatches: Return to Africa's Witch Children. For the past nine years, I have worked with street children in Kenya, most of them coming from abusive backgrounds. I have watched over young boys who occasionally experience dreadful nightmares due to the trauma they endured under violent parents, guardians or relatives. This distress haunts the children for a long time and their suffering has caused substantial inhibition of their psychological and intellectual growth. It therefore disturbs me to see Ukpabio, hiding behind the immunity of religion, inflicting even worse torture on Nigerian children.

    My appeal to rational Americans is to ensure that Ukpabio, with her hateful campaign against defenseless children, knows that she is not welcome in their country. She should be met with hostility similar to the protests against the Pope's visit to the United Kingdom. While we should all respect the freedom of everyone to practice their religion, this respect should stop where it starts harming those around them. Like in the popular phrase attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins. In the name of religion, crimes against children continue with no justice or accountability from relevant authorities. However, protesting against Ukpabio's visit to America would be a step towards the right direction in giving a voice to her unfortunate little victims.


  7. A Puritan's war against religion

    By John M. Barry, Los Angeles Times Op-Ed February 5, 2012

    In January, while conservative Christians and GOP presidential candidates were charging that "elites" have launched "a war against religion," a federal court in Rhode Island ordered a public school to remove a prayer mounted on a wall because it imposed a belief on 16-year-old Jessica Ahlquist. The ruling seems particularly fitting because it was consistent not only with the 1st Amendment but with the intent of Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island expressly to provide religious liberty and who called such forced exposure to prayer "spiritual rape."

    As Williams' nearly 400-year-old comment demonstrates, the conflict over the proper relationship between church and state is the oldest in American history. The 1st Amendment now defines this relationship, but understanding the full meaning of the amendment requires understanding its history, for the amendment was a specific response to specific historical events and was written with the recognition that freedom of religion was inextricably linked to freedom itself.

    The church-state conflict began when Puritans, envisioning a Christian nation, founded what John Winthrop called "a citty upon a hill" in Massachusetts, and Williams rejected that vision for another: freedom. He insisted that the state refrain from intervening in the relationship between humans and God, stating that even people advocating "the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian consciences and worships" be allowed to pray — or not pray — freely, and that "forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."

    Yet Williams was no atheist. He was a devout Puritan minister who, like other Massachusetts Puritans, fled religious persecution in England. Upon his arrival in 1631 he was considered so godly that Boston Puritans had asked him to lead their church. He declined — because he considered their church insufficiently pure.

    Reverence for both Scripture and freedom led Williams to his position. His mentor was Edward Coke, the great English jurist who ruled, "The house of every one is as his castle," extending the liberties of great lords — and an inviolate refuge where one was free — to the lowest English commoners. Coke pioneered the use of habeas corpus to prevent arbitrary imprisonment. And when Chancellor of England Thomas Egerton said, "Rex est lex loquens; the king is the law speaking," and agreed that the monarch could "suspend any particular law" for "reason of state," Coke decreed instead that the law bound the king. Coke was imprisoned — without charge — for his view of liberty, but that same view ran in Williams' veins.

    continued in next comment...


  8. continued from previous comment:

    Equally important to Williams was Scripture. Going beyond the "render unto Caesar" verse in the New Testament, he recognized the difficulty in reconciling contradictory scriptural passages as well as different Bible translations. He even had before him an example of a new translation that served a political purpose. King James had disliked the existing English Bible because in his view it insufficiently taught obedience to authority; the King James Bible would correct that.

    [note by Perry Bulwer: it is no coincidence that many fundamentalists who practice brutal corporal punishment of children prefer the King James Bible.]

    Given these complexities, Williams judged it impossible for any human to interpret all Scripture without error. Therefore he considered it "monstrous" for one person to impose any religious belief on another. He also realized that any government-sponsored prayer required a public official to pass judgment on something to do with God, a sacrilegious presumption. He also knew that when one mixes religion and politics, one gets politics. So to protect the purity of the church, he demanded — 150 years before Jefferson — a "wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world."

    Massachusetts had no such wall, compelled religious conformity and banished Williams for opposing it. Seeking "soul liberty," he founded Providence Plantations and established an entirely secular government that granted absolute freedom of religion. The governing compact of every other colony in the Americas, whether English, French, Spanish or Portuguese, claimed the colony was being founded to advance Christianity. Providence's governing compact did not mention God. It did not even ask God's blessing.

    Williams next linked religious and political freedom. It was then universally believed that governments derived their authority from God. Even Winthrop, after being elected governor in Massachusetts, told voters, "Though chosen by you, our authority comes from God."

    Williams disputed this. Considering the state secular, he declared governments mere "agents" deriving their authority from citizens and having "no more power, nor for longer time, than the people … shall betrust them with." This statement sounds self-evident now. It was revolutionary then.

    The U.S. Constitution, like Providence's compact, does not mention God. It does request a blessing, but not from God; it sought "the blessings of liberty," Williams' "soul liberty." As Justice Robert Jackson wrote, "This freedom was first in the Bill of Rights because it was first in the forefathers' minds; it was set forth in absolute terms, and its strength is its rigidity."

    Eight years after the Constitution's adoption, the Senate confirmed this view in unanimously approving a treaty. It stated: "[T]he government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

    Yet the argument continues. Presidential candidates and evangelicals ignore American history and insist on injecting religion into politics. They proclaim their belief in freedom — even while they violate it.


  9. The Supreme Court of Canada issued an important ruling today that sided with the religious rights of children over the religious rights of their parents. Critics of the course at the center of this case claim that it indoctrinates children, but the opposite is true, the course innoculates them. It is religious adults who want to indoctrinate children into one religion; this course does the opposite by teaching children to think critically about religion.
    See more articles on this case at:

    Quebec students must take ethics-religion course

    Supreme Court dismisses parents' appeal against mandatory attendance

    CBC News February 17, 2012

    Canada's top court on Friday rejected an appeal from parents in Quebec who sought the right to keep their children out of an ethics and religious culture program taught in the province's schools.

    The program, which was introduced in 2008 to elementary and high schools by the provincial Education Ministry, replaced religion classes with a curriculum covering all major faiths found in Quebec culture, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and aboriginal beliefs.

    "Exposing children to a comprehensive presentation of various religions without forcing the children to join them does not constitute an indoctrination of students that would infringe the freedom of religion of L and J [the appellants]," Madam Justice Marie Deschamps wrote in the main ruling.

    "Furthermore, the early exposure of children to realities that differ from those in their immediate family environment is a fact of life in society. The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education."

    The top court said that the appellants had not proven that the ethics and religion course infringed their freedom of religion, nor that the refusal of the school board to exempt their children had violated their constitutional rights.

    In 2009, Quebec's Superior Court rejected a request from two Drummondville parents who wanted to keep their children out of the program.

    After their appeal was denied in Quebec in 2010, the parents took it to the Supreme Court, which heard their case in May 2011.

    Incompatible beliefs

    When the program became mandatory in Quebec schools in May 2008, the appellants, who cannot be named under a court-ordered publication ban, had one child in elementary school and another in secondary school.

    The parents wrote to the two schools to request that their children be exempt from the courses.

    They claimed their children would suffer serious harm from contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family.

    The school board refused to grant the exemption, responding as other boards had to similar requests. The Quebec minister of education publicly stated that there would be no exemptions.

    When Quebec first brought in the ethics and religion course, some Catholic parents fought back, saying it interfered with their ability to pass their faith on to their children. They also argued that it infringed on their freedom of conscience and religion under the Charter of rights and Freedoms.

    They wanted to pull their children out of the classes and exempt them from taking other religion classes in the future. Almost 2,000 other parents also requested exemptions from the education ministry but were denied.

    In effect, the Supreme Court now has sided with the provincial government and the earlier ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal.


  10. Top court clears religion course

    By Sue Montgomery, Montreal Gazette February 17, 2012

    A controversial ethics and religious course taught in Quebec schools is in line with the changing face of Canada and in no way violates a person’s right to freedom of religion, the country’s highest court ruled Friday.

    It was a blow to the Catholic parents who had fought all the way to the Supreme Court to win an exemption from the course for their children because they felt that exposing them to a variety of religions would only confuse them.

    But the nine judges disagreed, saying that exposing children to beliefs and values that differ from their own is a fact of life in our diverse society.

    “The suggestion that exposing children to a variety of religious facts in itself infringes their religious freedom or that of their parents amounts to a rejection of the multicultural reality of Canadian society and ignores the Quebec government’s obligations with regard to public education,” the ruling says.

    “Given the diversity of present-day Quebec, the state can no longer promote a vision of society in public schools that is based on historically dominant religions.”

    The Drummondville parents, who can’t be named to protect the identity of their children, failed to prove that the course interfered with their ability to pass their Catholic faith onto their children, the ruling says.

    “(The judges) are saying ‘you can’t just say you feel like your rights have been violated; there has to be a standard that has to be met,’ ” said Daniel Weinstock, a philosophy professor at the Université de Montréal who sat on the commission that recommended such a course be created.

    “That’s a fairly strong statement for the court to say, ‘You didn’t even get past the first rung.’ ”

    The decision could affect the outcome of a court battle between Loyola High School, in Notre Dame de Grâce, and the Quebec government.

    The province refused to grant the 160-year-old Catholic boys’ school an exemption, and even turned down an offer of an equivalent course, saying religion and ethics can’t be taught from a Catholic perspective.

    In June 2010, Quebec Superior Court sided with the school – a decision the government will appeal before the Quebec Court of Appeal on May 7.

    In his ruling, Superior Court Justice Gerard Dugré compared the attempt of the education minister to impose a secular emphasis on Loyola High School’s teaching of the course to the intolerance of the Spanish Inquisition.

    “The obligation imposed on Loyola to teach the ethics and religious culture course in a lay fashion assumes a totalitarian character essentially equivalent to Galileo’s being ordered by the Inquisition to deny the Copernican universe,” the judge wrote in his 63-page decision.

    Benoît Boucher, the lawyer representing the government, wouldn’t comment on how the Supreme Court decision might affect their appeal.

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  11. continued from previous comment:

    Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said it would likely have a positive impact for the government’s case.

    “It would be bizarre if the school could say we’re exempt because of our religious orientation when the parents can’t be exempt because of their religious orientation,” he said.

    The course, known as Ethics and Religious Culture, is the result of years of the province moving toward secular education. It covers many religions, but from a cultural perspective.

    ERC was gradually implemented in schools before becoming mandatory at the start of the 2008-09 school year. The Drummondville parents requested an exemption before the school year began.

    Two of the nine Supreme Court justices noted in Friday’s ruling that while the teaching methods and content of the course remain “sketchy,” they felt the parents hadn’t made their case.

    Justices Louis LeBel and Morris Fish went further than their colleagues, saying future rights violations as a result of the course could be possible but don’t “paint a yellow brick road” to show future plaintiffs what they would have to show to prove that, Weinstock said.

    “This may be a ray of light opened up (to future plaintiffs),” he said. “As far as the other judges are concerned, the door is shut.”


  12. Childism: The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against Kids

    Racism and sexism are understood as ideological prejudices, why don't we have a similar understanding of the root of child abuse?


    When we read in the newspaper that a child in New Jersey has died from neglect from an untreated broken leg, or that a child in Florida’s protective services could just disappear without a trace, or that molestation of children has been covered up in yet another diocese of the Catholic Church, we do not say “there is prejudice against children at work in each of these instances.” Abuse, neglect, sanctioned pedophilia — we don’t put these all together in our minds with stories about child abductions and enslavements, trafficking, inadequate schooling, malnutrition and junk-food induced obesity, advertising cigarettes to minors, child pornography, or the rising numbers of child soldiers worldwide. But we should.

    April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Unfortunately, the messages about child abuse will not be grounded in an understanding that it arises out of prejudice against children — the way Black History Month in February reminds us of prejudice against people of color. Similarly, sexism is understood as an ideology and a prejudice, and all kinds of discrimination and violence specifically against women are united in our minds by the concept.

    Why don’t we have a similar understanding of the root of child abuse? In 1989, the United Nations issued a Convention on the Rights of the Child, which brought together in one document descriptions of many of the forms of maltreatment but does not make us think of children — all the world’s children — as a group. It is about “the Child,” an abstraction.

    Childism is the hardest form of prejudice to recognize because children are the one group that, many of us think without thinking, is naturally subordinate. Until they reach a stipulated age, they are the responsibility of their parents or guardians — those who have custody. But what does custody permit? What distinguishes it from ownership? One of the essential ingredients of childism is a claim by adults to the effect that “these children are ours to do with exactly as we see fit” or “children are here to serve, honor and obey adults.” These claims make a subordination doctrine out of natural dependency, out of the fact that children are born relatively helpless and need to be taken care of until they can take care of themselves. It seems normal to insist “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother” without any reciprocal “Honor Thy Children.”

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    Childism takes many forms. In the half-a-century-old field called “Child Abuse and Neglect” (CAN) four main types of child maltreatment have been identified: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. But these categories do not reflect how frequently the four types are combined in a given case. Listening to my adult patients in psychoanalysis who were maltreated as children, I have heard basically three stories: they tell me that they were not wanted; or that they were controlled and manipulated; or that they were not allowed to be who they felt they were. So I have come to think in terms of childism that intends (1) to eliminate or destroy children; (2) to make them play roles no child should play; or (3) to dominate them totally, narcissistically erasing their identities. Survivors make it very clear that the worst part of their experience — the most difficult to heal from, the least forgivable — was that no one protected them from it. They often make it clear, as well, that they have internalized the prejudice and direct it toward themselves.

    Childism, sexism and racism share many arguments about natural subordination. Similarly, these prejudices share the ingredient that the targeted group is in some way labeled bad or defective. Like women and people of color, children are said to be born wild, sexually anarchic, in need of punishment to keep them in line (“Spare the rod, spoil the child”). Some who are prejudiced against children consider them a burden; they are too many mouths to feed, too big a drain on limited financial or emotional resources. Neglect often follows from this assumption, and poverty and neglect are highly correlated. In economically secure homes, neglect and parental depression are highly correlated, as they are in homes where unemployment has suddenly and disorientingly erased security.

    But unlike most of those who suffer from racism or sexism, children are not yet political thinkers and actors. They depend upon adults for the articulation and protection of their rights as they depend on adults for survival and for loving care. Every adult citizen is, in this sense, a representative for children. It’s a social and political responsibility for all adults — and it is childist to shirk that responsibility. It is time for us to stop being blind to the prejudice that fuels, justifies or even sanctions child abuse and neglect. Giving it a name is the first step.

    Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, who died December 1, 2011, was a psychoanalyst and award-winning author, most recently of Childism.


  14. I don't own my child's body

    By Katia Hetter, CNN June 21, 2012

    My daughter occasionally goes on a hugging and kissing strike.

    She's 4. Her parents could get a hug or a kiss, but many people who know her cannot, at least right now. And I won't make her.

    "I would like you to hug Grandma, but I won't make you do it," I told her recently.

    "I don't have to?" she asked, cuddling up to me at bedtime, confirming the facts to be sure.

    No, she doesn't have to. And just to be clear, there is no passive-aggressive, conditional, manipulative nonsense behind my statement. I mean what I say. She doesn't have to hug or kiss anyone just because I say so, not even me. I will not override my own child's currently strong instincts to back off from touching someone who she chooses not to touch.

    I figure her body is actually hers, not mine.

    It doesn't belong to her parents, preschool teacher, dance teacher or soccer coach. While she must treat people with respect, she doesn't have to offer physical affection to please them. And the earlier she learns ownership of herself and responsibility for her body, the better for her.

    The trial of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach accused of sexually abusing young boys, has only strengthened my resolve to teach my kid that it's OK to say no to an adult who lays a hand on her -- even a seemingly friendly hand.

    "When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend's feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them," said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit specializing in teaching personal safety and violence prevention. "This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so 'he'll like me' and kids enduring bullying because everyone is 'having fun.' "

    Protection against predators

    Forcing children to touch people when they don't want to leaves them vulnerable to sexual abusers, most of whom are people known to the children they abuse, according to Ursula Wagner, a mental health clinician with the FamilyWorks program at Heartland Alliance in Chicago. None of the child victims of sexual abuse or assault she's counseled was attacked by strangers, she said.

    Sometimes a child picks up on something odd about your brother-in-law that no one knows. It may not be that he's a sexual predator. He may just have no sense of boundaries or tickle too much, which can be torture for a person who doesn't like it. Or he may be a predator.

    "It sends a message that there are certain situations [when] it's not up to them what they do with their bodies," said Wagner. "If they are obligated to be affectionate even if they don't want to, it makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse later on."

    Why wait until there's trouble? Parenting coach Sharon Silver worked hard to cultivate her children's detector. Silver says her sons easily pick up on subtle clues that suggest something isn't quite right about particular people or situations.

    In your child's case, it may be that something's off about Aunt Linda or the music teacher down the street.

    "It's something inside of you that tells you when something is wrong," said Silver. Training your child to pay attention to those instincts may protect him or her in the future.

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    Having sex to please someone else

    Would you want your daughter to have sex with her boyfriend simply to make him happy? Parents who justify ordering their children to kiss grandma might say, "It's different."

    No, it's not, according to author Jennifer Lehr, who blogs about her parenting style. Ordering children to kiss or hug an adult they don't want to touch teaches them to use their body to please you or someone else in authority or, really, anyone.

    "The message a child gets is that not only is another person's emotional state their responsibility but that they must also sacrifice their own bodies to buoy another's ego or satisfy their desire for love or affection," said Lehr.

    "Certainly no parent would wish for their teenager or adult child to feel pressure to reciprocate unwanted sexual advances, yet many teach their children at a young age that it's their job to use their bodies to make others happy," she said.

    We can't be rude

    You might think my daughter's shiftless parents are not teaching her manners, but that's not true. She will shake your hand in greeting or give you a high-five when we're saying goodbye. She knows how to set the table and place a napkin in her lap. She even has me saying a little all-inclusive blessing she brought home from school.

    We've trained her to say please and thank you so often that she'll say it back to me when I ask her anything. "What did you say?" I sometimes ask her when I didn't hear her. "Please?" she'll answer. No, I meant what did she actually say? (Maybe we're overdoing it.)

    She has to be polite when greeting people, whether she knows them or not. When family and friends greet us, I give her the option of "a hug or a high-five." Since she's been watching adults greet each other with a handshake, she sometimes offers that option. We talk about high-fives so often she's started using them to meet anyone, which can make the start of any social occasion look like a touchdown celebration.

    "When kids are really little and shy, parents can start to offer them choices for treating people with respect and care," said van der Zande. "By age 6 or 7, even shy kids can shake somebody's hand or wave or do something to communicate respect and care. Manners -- treating people with respect and care -- is different than demanding physical displays of affection."

    It creates more work

    Refusing to order her to hand out hugs or kisses on demand means there's more work to keep the relationships going and keep feelings from being hurt. Most of our extended family live far away, so it's my job to teach my kiddo about people she doesn't see on a daily basis.

    We make sure to keep in contact with calls and Skype and presents. In advance of loved ones' visits, which usually means an all-day plane ride, I talk a lot about how we're related to our guests, what they mean to me and what we're going to do when they arrive. I give them plenty of opportunity to interact with her so she can learn to trust them.

    I explain to relatives who want to know why we're letting her decide who she touches. And when she does hug them, the joy is palpable. Not from obligation or a direct order from Mom.

    And while I hope I'm teaching my child how to take care of herself in the future, there are benefits to allowing her to express affection in her own way and on her own timeline. When my child cuddled up to my mother on the sofa recently, happily talking to her about stories and socks and toes and other things, my mother's face lit up. She knew it was real.


  16. German court rules religious circumcision on boys an assault

    AFP June 26, 2012

    Circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm, a German court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that the Jewish community said trampled on parents' religious rights.

    The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents", a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

    "The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised," the court added.

    The case was brought against a doctor in Cologne who had circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy on his parents' wishes.

    A few days after the operation, his parents took him to hospital as he was bleeding heavily. Prosecutors then charged the doctor with grievous bodily harm.

    The doctor was acquitted by a lower court that judged he had acted within the law as the parents had given their consent.

    On appeal, the regional court also acquitted the doctor but for different reasons.

    The regional court upheld the original charge of grievous bodily harm but also ruled that the doctor was innocent as there was too much confusion on the legal situation around circumcision.

    The court came down firmly against parents' right to have the ritual performed on young children.

    "The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision," the court said. "This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."

    The decision caused outrage in Germany's Jewish community.

    The head of the Central Committee of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said the ruling was "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination."

    The judgement was an "outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries," added Graumann.

    "This religious right is respected in every country in the world."

    Holm Putzke, a criminal law expert at the University of Passau, told the Financial Times Deutschland that the ruling was "enormously important for doctors because for the first time they have legal certainty."

    "Unlike many politicians, the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance," added Putzke.

    The World Health Organisation has estimated that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised. In the United States, the operation is often performed for hygiene reasons on infants.

    Thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country's large Jewish and Muslim communities.

    The court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.


  17. How Corrupt Catholics and Evangelicals Abuse Religious Freedom

    By Katherine Stewart, The Guardian July 1, 2012

    It is a terrible thing when a once-noble phrase gets beaten to a meaningless pulp. The time has now come to rescue the phrase "religious freedom" from its abusers. In the writings and speeches of Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders in recent months, "religious freedom" has come to mean something close to its opposite. It now stands for "religious privilege". It is a coded way for them to state their demand that religious institutions should be allowed special powers that exempt them from the laws of the land.

    On 22 June, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops kicked off its "Fortnight for Freedom", a campaign of complaints about alleged persecution of the largest, most powerful and politically influential religious denominations in theUnited States. Religious freedom is "in jeopardy in America", says Archbishop Jose H Gomez in a prominent article in the theological journal First Things. Let's consider some of the alleged assaults.

    At St Xavier University in Chicago, Illinois, the adjunct professors had not had a raise in five years, according to Tom Suhrbur, an organizer with the Illinois Education Association. In 2010, in hopes of securing higher pay and benefits, they sought to organize themselves into a union.

    The administration of St Xavier, with the backing of many prominent Catholic organizations, opposed the effort on legal grounds. Why? Because, it claimed, theirs is a religious institution, and the unionization of its employees would involve a violation of its "religious freedom". The National Labor Relations Board sided with the adjuncts, pointing out that neither the university, nor its faculty, nor their courses were actually religious in any meaningful sense.

    But Catholic University of America President John Garvey, at an address to the bishops intended to kick off the "Fortnight for Freedom", listed the National Labor Relations Board decision as a grievous example of the "decline in respect for religious freedom". In his mind, it seems, "religious freedom" means the power to engage in union-busting without having to obey national and state labor laws. In the past month, attempts by Duquesne University adjuncts in Pittsburgh have run into the same sort of opposition, as the university argues that its affiliation with the Spiritans, a Roman Catholic order, affords it a special exemption from the jurisdiction of the NLRB.

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    Evangelical organizations are just as convinced as the bishops that religious liberty in the United States is under attack. For them, many of the issues center on public schools, and the most egregious assault is the reported ban on school prayer. In fact, prayer by students in appropriate places and times has never been banned. What is banned is religious groups using the authority of the school to impose their prayer on other people's children. That's not freedom. That's power.

    The event that precipitated the "Fortnight for Freedom", of course, was theObamaadministration's decision that insurance plans offered under the Affordable Care Act would be required to cover certain aspects of women's healthcare, including contraception and other family planning services. Catholic hospitals, universities, schools, and other affiliated institutions employ hundreds of thousands of women across the country, many of whom are not themselves Catholic, and most of whom are engaged in work that has nothing to do with religion. But to Catholic bishops, the idea that a Catholic-affiliated organization would be obligated to give these female employees healthcare coverage which they consider objectionable is a gross violation of "religious freedom". In other words, rather than being a guarantee of your freedom to worship, religious liberty is the power to rewrite laws that offend you – such as laws designed to protect the health of working women.

    In his lament over this alleged assault on the bishops' "freedom" to deprive their employees of healthcare, Archbishop Gomez said that the issue was not just about contraception. He is right about that part, at least; let us put the "war on women" to one side, for the moment. This is a war of conquest, designed to expand the power of religious institutions at the expense of the rest of society and the state. It is about carving out an even larger share of the special privileges and exemptions that are already made available only to organized religious institutions.

    Such privileges are already substantial. Religions already receive hefty subsidies – by some estimates, as much as $71bn a year – through broad tax exemptions, deductions, and faith-based government programs. A "ministerial exemption" allows them to hire and fire people directly involved in religious activity without regard to anti-discrimination laws.

    But they want more. And they are willing to turn the meaning of the word "persecution" on its head to get it.

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    Archbishop Gomez makes the astonishing claim that religious freedom has suffered in America because the country is becoming "less religious", and people who aren't religious supposedly don't care about religious freedom. It is remarkable enough that a Catholic bishop would assume that people only care about what affects them directly. So, presumably, only poor people would care about poverty, or only gay people care about gay rights. It is flat wrong for the archbishop to suggest that religious freedom is only for the benefit of the religious.

    Archbishop Gomez seems to think that religious freedom is some kind of privilege that you get from the state in exchange for signing up for a particular faith. But religious freedom in America has always meant the freedom from state involvement in religion. And it has always been understood, at least until now, that this freedom requires that the state refrain from granting any privilege to religion. The whole point of the first amendment, with its carefully balanced clauses prohibiting the establishment of religion while guaranteeing the right to the free exercise of religion, is to make sure that our freedomof religion comes with this necessary freedom from religion.

    Since Archbishop Gomez appears to believe that people only care about things that affect them directly, let me put it this way: anyone who seeks the truth, whether religious or not, can see the advantage of a system that prevents any one group from using state power to establish a monopoly on it.

    The "Fortnight for Freedom" began with the celebration of the feast of St Thomas More, the English Lord Chancellor who was beheaded in 1535 by Henry VIII for refusing to acknowledge that the king, not the pope, was then the supreme head of the church in England. More is a curious choice as a representative of the idea of religious freedom. Before he got into trouble with Henry VIII, he busied himself burning heretics and banning books, such as Protestant translations of the New Testament.

    More didn't represent religious freedom. He represented the Catholic Church of his time.

    There is a precedent in the past for a system that grants religious institutions special rights to control land and labor, that cedes to them a monopoly on the indoctrination of other people's children, and that allows them to decide on matters of individual and public health. It was called feudalism. It worked out well for the church. For the serfs, not so much.

    This is not to say that those behind the "Fortnight for Freedom" can take us back to the days of moats and turrets. But it should at least make clear where they are coming from, and where they may take us if they manage to get all the "religious freedom" they demand.

    Katherine Stewart is the author of "The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children" (PublicAffairs)


  20. International controversy rages over German ban on circumcision

    by: National Secular Society UK July 20, 2011

    A court case in Cologne, Germany, has held that circumcision, carried out for religious — as opposed to medical — reasons, is potentially harmful. The decision has, however, been fiercely opposed by religious interests, and this has put pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel.

    The (UK) Secular Medical Forum (SMF), associated with the National Secular Society, has been campaigning against this practice for over two years, raising the matter for example with the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council. Quite separately, the Royal Dutch Medical Association and associated bodies have concluded — like the court — that infant circumcision “can be harmful and that it violates the boy’s human rights to autonomy and physical integrity”.

    The pressure on Mrs Merkel has been led by Jewish campaigners who have gone so far as to suggest that it is the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust, something particularly sensitive in Germany. The popular press has also strongly opposed the court decision, whereas there is wide public support for the ruling.

    Mrs Merkel’s instinct has been to bow to the pressure, and she has been quoted as suggesting that the decision will lead to Germany being regarded as “a laughing stock”. She has vowed to bring forward legislation to protect Jewish and Muslim communities’ rights to circumcision.

    The SMF’s chairman, Dr Antony Lempert, has written to Chancellor Merkel (http://www.secularmedicalforum.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/SMF-Angela-Merkel-letter-140712.pdf) to dissuade her from such action: “As the leader of a democracy that supports child welfare, we urge you to resist the strong pressure being brought to bear on you to overturn this laudable decision. The judgment is a common-sense verdict reflecting the expansion of human rights in the 21st century and the necessary restrictions that organised groups must have on their rights to practise their beliefs.

    “The lesson from the 20th century is not that groups of stronger people should be able to impose surgically their views on groups of weaker people to satisfy their own ideology or theology, but that all people deserve society’s protection from cradle to grave. That the first ruling of this kind in Europe should happen in Germany is something of which you can justly be proud.”

    The SMF is convinced that the court’s decision was in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This is a UN Human Rights treaty which Germany, along with another 166 states, has undertaken to uphold.

    The NSS’s Keith Porteous Wood added: “We hope that the Chancellor has thought through carefully the implications of overriding a court decision, by seemingly reacting to what she regards as populist demands. She may find that in practice this is far more difficult than she imagined. We believe that there are strong human rights arguments to support the court’s stance. Human Rights are primarily to protect individuals, and few individuals could be more vulnerable than babies, against the overbearing power of groups. If she seeks to change the law to override the court’s decision, she is doing the very opposite: giving groups power over vulnerable individuals. And she is also going to find it very difficult to find wording which permits male genital mutilation, without also permitting female genital mutilation (fgm).”


  21. Wait until later, say pediatricians

    DW Germany July 17, 2012

    Interview: Dagmar Breitenbach / mll
    Editor: Joanna Impey

    Children have to be old enough to give their consent to a religious circumcision, says leading pediatrician Maximilian Stehr. But the law does not need to be changed.

    Maximilian Stehr is a pediatric surgeon at the University Hospital in Munich and chair of the working group on pediatric urology at the Germany Association for Pediatric Surgery.

    DW: What has been the effect as far as pediatricians are concerned of the ruling by the court in Cologne regarding the religious circumcision of boys who are not yet able to give informed consent?

    Maximilian Stehr: To start with, one should note that this ruling has not changed the law, it has merely interpreted existing law and applied it. There has of course been an effect on colleagues working in the field of pediatric surgery and urology in that the ruling has led to a public discussion, and, should similar charges be brought against a doctor in future, it will not be possible to argue [as in this case] that the doctor could not be expected to know that his actions were illegal. I know of many doctors who are currently not carrying out any circumcisions of boys who are not able to give informed consent.

    What is your advice to doctors who ask whether they should carry out this operation?

    I've always given the same advice, even before this ruling. I've always held the view that this medical intervention cannot be regarded as conforming to current law or current medical ethics. And so I continue to advise doctors not to carry out this operation, instead, if religiously-motivated circumcision is to be carried out, it should only be carried out at an age when the child or the young person is able to permit it himself or at least consent to it.

    Would you see the issue of the inability of the child to give its consent as a bigger issue than that of the child's physical integrity?

    I don't think you can separate the two. Physical integrity is certainly the highest value. That goes without question. There are certainly medical conditions and situations in which people want to decide for themselves that they would like to change something about their body.

    That is standard procedure in cosmetic surgery - it's the same in pediatric surgery, for example, when we correct protruding ears. For that, the child has to be able to judge for itself the seriousness of the operation, as well as its risks and side-effects, and that is only possible when the child is 14 or 16 years old.

    How far is this an issue of medical ethics?

    Medical ethics is very closely related to the Hippocratic Oath. All our actions as doctors must work towards healing and towards the benefit of the patient to the best of our knowledge and conscience. A further principle is never to cause any harm. Both these principles are imperiled when one carries out the circumcision of a boy who is unable to give consent.

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    That means it's an unnecessary operation?

    It is an unnecessary operation. All the benefits which are said to come from circumcision, some of which are certainly valid - for example, concerning sexual infections or penile cancer or the development of tumors - are all reasons which argue for circumcision as a possible preventative measure - but not at this age.

    The German government wants to find a speedy solution to the problem, and it has hinted that it plans to introduce a law which will continue to permit religious circumcision. Would you consider that any solution must include restrictions as to age?

    I don't see any reason to pass a new law - one just has to apply existing law and existing medical ethics. There's no need for anything else. Then you come to the situation we have at the moment, that, if one wants to carry out such an operation which has no medical justification, it requires the consent of the patient. I would find extremely dangerous if there were to be a special law to permit such an operation to be carried out on, for example, Jewish children.

    That would go entirely against the principle of equal treatment. One could then certainly argue that this in itself would be discrimination.
    Currently, though, it's the case that the parents can decide, since they have legal custody.

    The legal custody of the parents only allows decisions which are clearly for the benefit of the child. That's why I consider this medical intervention to be illegal. It can only be dealt with if the religious communities can agree that the operation can be delayed until the child is old enough to decide for itself or to give its consent. There has to be a compromise, but I don't see any compromise possible which involves special laws for specific religious communities or other groups. That would go against the principle of equal treatment and would backfire in the end.


  23. The Rise and Fall of the American Childhood

    By Colin Greer, AlterNet July 19, 2012

    From the 1930s to 1980, childhood in America became a cherished space for youngsters to grow in. After 1980, and with increasing furor, that space has been under assault and childhood terribly compromised. Look at what we once did and what we’re now doing.

    The Rise:

    --Child labor laws.

    --Civil rights protections for all children.

    --Full and secure employment for parents.

    --Play as a mode of learning. Early childhood as a time to invest in child development through stimulating play.

    --Contraception and the Pill allowed women choice and children to feel chosen.

    --Feminism brought fatherhood back home and encouraged men to be robust partners in parenting.

    --Protection from adult violence including corporal punishment and child abuse; the establishment of family and children’s courts, and special sentencing for minors.

    --Access to quality education on an unprecedented scale stimulated by competition with the Russians and influenced by deep psychology. The US moved toward universal inclusion from elementary through post-secondary education.

    Yet once these gains were fully established in the top rungs of society, they began to shut down for the nation’s children as a whole. For 50 years, the pendulum swung toward protecting children and guaranteeing a childhood for all; then it began to swing back when less than half of the population had securely achieved these benefits. So despite the language of "going too far” in the direction of a protective, even a “nanny state,” we have never in fact gone far enough for the least privileged of us.

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    The Fall:

    --Schools, once protected from the workplace, have been turned into a workplace of rigid rules, intense competition and permanent stress. Even privileged children are educated in the fortress school mentality set in motion by Ronald Reagan’s “Nation at Risk” report and George Bush’s No Child Left Behind act. The pressure cooker of privileged schooling sets in motion a competitiveness, pitting kids against each other, and ironically, producing insecurity and trauma in the lives of rich kids, too.

    --Play is diminished in importance and recreational activity in the school setting has become a privileged enrichment benefit in private schools.

    --Unemployment and welfare reform have made family life insecure with its greatest impact on the lowest 40% of income earners.

    --Child consumption has skyrocketed as an advertising target, with violence all too often the trigger to this consumption. And despite our public recoil at child molestation, our media continue to sexualize children, especially girls.

    --Failure to protect children from adult assault has become a commonplace discovery in such basic institutions as the Church and sports. In born-again settings, corporal punishment is on the rise, according both to victims and the sale of popular books lauding it as a method of discipline. And of course, profiling in immigrant and poor communities has made vulnerable children even more so.

    --Children in poor and immigrant communities are actually working -- on the land and in sweatshops -- despite our laws to the contrary. Children in this population have less than a 10% chance of a college education. Hunger and homelessness among these children is at shockingly high levels.

    --Challenges to contraception have reached national credibility, with no regard to the memory of unwanted and maimed children resulting from aborted abortions.

    --The extension of the age of culpability for criminal behavior and the use of adult courts for teenage offenders is adding to the pain of children in parts of the socio-economy where the incarceration of parents is disproportionately high.

    --The need for both parents to work in the face of not only economic downturns, but the demand for higher productivity from American workers and lower public benefits, puts the lives of children under stresses that we once aimed to eradicate.

    In describing both the rise and fall of American childhood, I’ve quoted no data for two reasons. One, it is all out there. It’s in the press and in the professional literature for all to find. Two, the gathering of data seems to make no difference to public behavior and public policy.

    Perhaps it’s time instead for each of us to imagine just one child, one who looks like a child you know and love. Each of these children is the bearer of the accumulated loss summarized in the Rise and Fall.

    Colin Greer is president of the New World Foundation in New York. Among his books is A Call to Character (HarperCollins, 1995).


  25. Swiss hospitals suspend circumcision

    By Jamie Michaels, The Jewish Chronicle July 23, 2012

    Two Swiss hospitals have suspended the performance of circumcision, after the ruling of a German court in Cologne which said that religious circumcision was likely to be illegal because it infringed the rights of the child.

    Last week, Zurich University Children's Hospital announced that it would stop performing the procedure, and the northern Swiss St. Gall teaching hospital followed suit over the weekend. A Berlin hospital has also stopped permitting circumcisions.

    Unlike the German court ruling, which affected all circumcisions in the country, it is expected that the Swiss move will not affect circumcisions elsewhere, meaning that they can still occur in synagogues.

    The dispute over this matter has enraged Jewish and Muslim organisations. The court case began after a four-year-old Muslim boy in Germany was hospitalised for excessive bleeding following a circumcision.


  26. Banning the Snip: The Debate on Circumcision

    by Binoy Kampmark, Scoop New Zealand July 25, 2012

    Chancellor Angela Merkel has a plateful of matters to deal with, most of them of an economic nature. Europe is stuttering and staggering, and the Dame of Austerity is finding herself with fewer friends by the day. With the recent decision by the regional court in Cologne disapproving the legality of circumcision for underage boys, a storm has erupted that has given her another issue to worry about. The debate may never have taken place had the doctor who performed the circumcision on the couple’s child not been charged with bodily harm.

    The Chancellor’s sentiments were recorded in the Bild daily: “I do not want Germany to be the only country in the world where Jews cannot practise their rituals. Otherwise we will become a laughing stock.” Both Merkel and Joerg van Essen, parliamentary floor leader of the Free Democrats, have suggested that laws overturning the effect of the ruling will be introduced over the autumn.

    The first thing to note in this sea of hysteria is the limited nature of the ruling. The court’s jurisdiction is confined to the city of Cologne and its environs. The fear there, of course, is one of precedent. Nor did the court expressly outlaw circumcision of underage boys. The regional court emphasised that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents.”

    Religious groups who encourage such practices have predictably gone on to pillory the ruling, suggesting that, in the twenty first century, it is still one’s untrammelled prerogative to alter the genital makeup of underage boys. The Central Council of Jews in Germany has issued a statement that, were this ruling to become German law, Jews might find living in that country intolerable. Ali Demir, chairman of the Religious Community of Islam in Germany has even made the curious remark that the ruling was “adversarial to the cause of integration and discriminatory against all the parties concerned” (Guardian, Jun 27). The issue has an even greater resonance in Germany, when the shadow of the Holocaust looms over any encroachment upon the rights of Jewish residents.

    What has been well illustrated not merely by the case but the reaction to it is a yawning gulf – on the one hand, the seething outrage against female genital mutilation (hardly a case of integration), and on the other ‘legitimate’, condoned practice, be it for some fanciful religious or medical notion, of male circumcision.

    Dr. Antony Lempert, chairman of Britain’s Secular Medical Forum, has expressed support for the ruling, seeing at work a distinct appellation of emotional blackmail that threatens to undermine it. Don’t, he urged Merkel, be phased. “We are shocked that religious groups deny the harm (caused by circumcision) and at the distorted and disingenuous claims made by those opposing the court’s decision, wrongly suggesting that it is an indication of anti-Semitism” (Reuters, Jul 17).

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    The point is well made, and ignores the debate on circumcision within those faiths that practice it. Ronald Goldman of the Jewish Circumcision Resource Centre has been happy to challenge the unquestioning assertions of the practice, noting that organisations can be found, even in Israel, decrying the snip. If we want to blot the record with historical references, Goldman reminds us in “Circumcision: A Source of Jewish Pain,” that Moses neglected to circumcise his son, while Theodor Herzl did not give his son the treatment when he was born in 1891. To claim that the snip is a mandatory feature of authentic Jewishness is also false, given that one can be uncircumcised and still remain Jewish.

    The other striking feature of the debate is one of age. Children’s rights have become something of a fetish in many states, a policy making boon for those seeking to control the interaction between adults and children. If it’s in the best interests of the child, then do it. Evidently, circumcising those who are incapable, and indeed often unaware, of what is being done to their genitals lies in a mysterious area of legal exceptionality. Religious, cultural practices take precedence – at least if the child in question is male. Again, to quote Lempert, “As it stands, the court’s decision ensures that today’s children will be free to grow up to make their own decisions.” (The blood of religious figures must surely have run cold at the very thought of a freely informed decision.)

    The German regional court did its part in igniting the issue with the assertion that circumcision amounted to grievous bodily harm. It is hard to contest that as a fact – harm it is, wielded by a practitioner skilled in the arts of foreskin removal. That’s hardly the view of such figures as Rabbi Jonathan Romain, who claims that the Queen chose to have HRH the Prince of Wales and his brothers, Andrew and Edward, snipped. If the royals do it, so can commoners.

    Catherine Bennett in the Guardian (Jul 22) adopted, rightly, a scoffing tone to the value of the practice. “While I wish the rabbi all the best, there seems no obvious reason why the royal family’s traditional aversion to foreskins should prove any more influential than its passion for polo, corgis and homeopathic remedies.”

    Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.


  28. Child mental abuse as harmful as physical assaults

    CBC News July 30, 2012

    Child psychological abuse can be as damaging as physical assault, but it remains underreported and not easily recognized by health and welfare interests, even though it was first recorded in scientific literature in the late 1980s, Canadian and other researchers say in a new position paper.

    "Psychological or emotional maltreatment of children and adolescents may be the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect, but until recently, it has received relatively little attention," say the researchers in the paper published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) paper is an update to its 2000 report designed to guide pediatricians on ways to identify, prevent and treat child psychological abuse.

    The many forms of child psychological abuse include belittling, denigrating, terrorizing, exploiting and being emotionally unresponsive, notes Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry, and behaviour sciences and pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton.

    "We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behaviour that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted," says MacMillan, who gave the example of a mother leaving her infant alone in a crib all day, or a father involving his teenager in his drug habit.

    In a release, MacMillan, one of three authors of the paper also involving U.K. and U.S. experts, gave insight into what is and isn't considered abusive behaviour on the part of a parent or caregiver.

    Raising your voice after asking children repeatedly to put on their running shoes is not psychological abuse, she says. "But, yelling at a child every day and giving the message that the child is a terrible person, and that the parent regrets bringing the child into this world, is an example of a potentially very harmful form of interaction."

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    Child psychological abuse in scientific literature dates back a quarter-century, but it remains under-recognized and underreported, MacMillan says, adding that its effects "can be as harmful as other types of maltreatment," and can lead to attachment, developmental and educational disorders, as well as socialization problems and disruptive behaviour.

    "The effects of psychological maltreatment during the first three years of life can be particularly profound," she says.

    For that reason, the Pediatrics report says, pediatricians, when seeing parents with young children, should "promote sensitive and attuned parenting, including using a range of approaches [such as leaflets, books and videos], and keep an eye out for any interactions between parents and their children that may signal youngsters are being psychologically abused.

    Few studies focus on the prevalence of child psychological abuse, but large population-based studies in Britain and the United States have found eight to nine per cent of women and four per cent of men reported exposure to severe psychological abuse during childhood.

    The Pediatrics report suggests that pediatric, psychiatric and child protective service professionals work together in specific cases to help children at risk for or experiencing psychological abuse — even if it means removing a child from a home.

    "Although efforts should focus on ways to assist the family with the child remaining in the home, it is important for the pediatrician to be alert to situations in which a child’s needs are better met outside the home, either on a temporary or permanent basis," write the researchers, who also include Indiana pediatrician Dr. Roberta Hibbard and Jane Barlow, professor of public health in the early years at the University of Warwick.

    The Family Violence Prevention Unit of the Public Health Agency of Canada helped fund the work.

    Psychological abuse of children includes:

    Spurning: Belittling, denigrating or other rejecting.

    Ridiculing for showing normal emotions.

    Singling out or humiliating in public.

    Terrorizing: Placing in unpredictable/chaotic circumstances, or dangerous situations.

    Having rigid/unrealistic expectations accompanied by threats if not met.

    Threatening/perpetrating violence against a child or child’s loved ones/objects.

    Isolating: Confining within environment. Restricting social interactions in community.

    Exploiting/corrupting: Modelling, permitting or encouraging antisocial or developmentally inappropriate behaviour.

    Restricting/interfering with cognitive development.

    Denying emotional responsiveness.

    Being detached or uninvolved; interacting only when necessary.

    Providing little or no warmth, nurturing, praise during any developmental period in childhood.

    Source: Pediatrics report


  30. Voodoo witch doctor kills four children in exorcism ceremony

    Herald Sun AFP August 04, 2012

    FOUR children from the same family have been found dead in Haiti after being treated by a witch doctor who claimed to be able to cure them of a mysterious illness, a local official said Friday.

    "Three girls and a boy, the eldest of whom was seven years old and the youngest only 15 months, suffered abuse from the healer who was treating them," said Wilfrid Brisson, an official from the southern town of Marbial.

    "They were then abandoned in their mother's bed."

    According to neighbours, the sorcerer - who was assisted by his brother - persuaded the victims' mother that the children were possessed by a demon and said he could rid their soul of the devil.

    The witch doctor and his brother beat the children repeatedly, in steps they said were necessary to expel the demon, and the youngsters died from the blows, said Mr Brisson.

    The alleged killers have apparently fled to the capital Port-au-Prince. An investigation by authorities in Marbial is under way and the children's mother is in custody.

    About half of Haiti's population is believed to practice the voodoo religion in some form, though many are thought to also follow other religious beliefs at the same time. Sorcery and spiritual magic have been incorporated into some of the beliefs.

    Voodoo evolved out of the beliefs that slaves from West Africa brought with them to Haiti. It is now deeply rooted in Haitian culture.

    Western evangelical Christian movements, however, have also made inroads in Haiti.


  31. Cynical evangelisation of children

    by Ken Perrott, Secular News Daily August 13, 2013

    All parents are concerned when they send their children out into the world. We all hope that our schools, and other places our children go, are going to be safe. We are rightfully shocked when we find adults entrusted with the care of children have actually been preying on them.

    Sexual predators get the headlines. But children can also be subject to unhealthy interest of adults who interests are more political or ideological than sexual. I am beginning to think we should look at the way religious instruction operates in our public schools as an example of this unhealthy interest.

    There has been a lot in the media lately about “bible in schools” and similar programmes. Simon Greening, the chief executive officer for the main provider of these religious instruction programmes (the Churches Education Commission), has been assuring everybody that their interests are not evangelical. They are not trying to convert children – just educate them about values (see Their mission – values or advancement of religion?). It hasn’t helped him that other spokesmen for his organisation have presented a different story – admitting that they see religious instruction in public schools as a great opportunity for their religious mission. There has even been talk of creating disciples out of children in these religious instruction classes.

    George Higinbotham (@streligionVIC) a recent commenter here pointed me to a document which is very relevant to this issue. Partly because one of the drafters of the document is Mitch Jordan who is currently Chairperson of the CEC board. But also, and more seriously, the document outlines a cynical programme for the evangelisation of children that seems to actually now be in place in New Zealand.

    The document is “Evangelisation of Children.” Prepared several years ago, it’s seen as part of a general plan of world evangelisation. I’ll present some extracts from the document and compare them with what is actually happening here.

    read the rest of this article and view the embedded links at:


    To read the online pdf document: Evangelization of Children - 2004 Forum for World Evangelization go to:


  32. Why I am an atheist by Serendipitydawg

    Pharyngula August 18, 2012

    Dumb luck. Really, the dumbest.

    Back in the mid 1950′s, people like my parents had their children splashed with the mystic water but they didn’t necessarily believe in the hocus pocus that lay behind the ritual, it really was simply something that was expected by families. I do remember being a page boy at the weddings of my much older cousins but I can’t say that any of the ritual made any impression on my three year old self, and these events were the only contact I had with church and religion until I started school in 1959.

    The dumb luck comes from when I asked my mum about all the prayers and bible stories at school. She simply said that no-one in our part of the family believed any of what they were saying was true and that was why we never went to church. The best part was that she said to simply ignore it all and, apart from singing a few of the songs (especially carols), that is exactly what I did.

    The consequence of this decision remains to this day: I have never believed in any kind of god. Santa, yes. Tooth Fairy, yes. Gods, no. This amply demonstrates what young and impressionable minds can do with parental collusion and the offer of material rewards, especially what happens to these deeply held beliefs when they are permitted to wither naturally. I can’t remember exactly when I worked out that the old man in the red suit didn’t exist but I can clearly remember at least one parent coming clean when confronted with the truth (and the relief at the knowledge that it didn’t actually make any difference!)

    It might appear that I am some kind of default atheist but there is something much deeper. I have no means to accept the intrinsic truth of one belief over all others, so I can dismiss them all as easily as I dismiss the existence of Santa and the elves. Having read so many of these pieces I have come to realise just how lucky this makes me. In my lifetime, religion in the UK has never been strong enough to divide my family or the communities I have lived in and I have never faced any opprobrium or discrimination for my lack of belief. I have never had peer pressure to conform to some religious ideal and I have never agonised about fading belief in a religion that I was raised in. I am profoundly grateful for this and sincerely hope that the future holds more people like me and fewer who do agonise and face ostracism from their communities.



  33. Government tackles abuse of children accused of witchcraft

    Action plan aims to destroy 'wall of silence' around issue and bring more offenders to justice

    The Guardian UK August 14, 2012

    The government has announced plans to tackle the "wall of silence" around the abuse and neglect of children accused of witchcraft, following the brutal murder of Kristy Bamu, who was tortured to death in London in 2010 by his sister and her partner after they said he was a witch.

    Key charities say many cases of "ritual abuse" are under the radar and that the belief in witchcraft is on the increase in the UK.

    Under the new plans, the government aims to identify and prosecute more offenders by raising awareness of faith-based abuse and its links to trafficking, missing children and sexual exploitation or grooming. The goal is also to help the victims give evidence.

    Tim Loughton, the children's minister, said: "Child abuse is appalling and unacceptable wherever it occurs and in whatever form it takes. Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a wall of silence around its scale and extent.

    "It is not our job to challenge people's beliefs but it is our job to protect children. There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed."

    Kristy Bamu was 15 when he arrived in London from his home in Paris to visit his sister and her boyfriend for Christmas. Eric Bikubi, the man he referred to as his uncle, became fixated with the idea that he was practising kindoki or witchcraft. With increasing violence, Bikubi, 28 when he came to trial, tried to "exorcise demons" from the child.

    During the torture, described during the trial this year as a "staggering act of depravity and cruelty", the 15-year-old was deprived of water and sleep, and punched and kicked repeatedly. Floor tiles were smashed over his head and his teeth were hit out with a hammer.

    The trial followed the case of child B – an eight-year-old Angolan girl who was beaten and cut, and had chilli rubbed into her eyes after being accused of being a witch in 2003 – and that of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié murdered by her guardians 12 years ago.

    Despite low reported figures of ritualised abuse, police have warned that the crime is "hidden and under-reported".

    Under plans drawn up in the national action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief, police, social workers and others who come into contact with potentially abused children will get more training. It recommends that children should have better access to therapy and emotional support after abuse.

    Drawn up with faith leaders, charities and the Metropolitan police, the plan urges local communities and churches to work more closely together to prevent abuse.

    Loughton said: "There has been only very gradual progress in understanding the issues over the last few years – either because community leaders have been reluctant to challenge beliefs which risk leading to real abuse in their midst; or because authorities misunderstand the causes or are cowed by political correctness.

    "This plan will help people recognise and know how to act on evidence, concerns and signs that a child's health and safety is being threatened."

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    The research is limited and there are few official statistics concerning the abuse of children accused of witchcraft. In the past 10 years there have been 81 recorded police investigations in London of faith-based child abuse, while research commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills in 2006 analysed 38 cases involving 47 children, from Africa, south Asia and Europe, all of whom had been abused in the name of possession or witchcraft.

    Research for the education department on child abuse linked to faith, based on previous findings, is expected by the end of the year.

    Mor Dioum, director of the Victoria Climbié Foundation UK, welcomed the move to recognise faith-based child abuse. "By bringing the issue into the open … we can better protect and support members of our communities when they seek to highlight their concerns. However, we need to work more effectively with families to achieve better outcomes for children and young people affected by this type of abuse," he said.

    Simon Bass, the chief executive of the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service, said a multi-layered approach was necessary to address the issue.

    Pastor Jean Bosco Kanyemesha, representing the London Fire Church International, Peace International and Congolese Pastorship in the UK, said the government's move "was an adequate response to resolve issues troubling our local communities".

    Debbie Ariyo, the director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, described the action plan as the first step taken by any government to seriously tackle ritualised child abuse, but said it was not going far enough. She called on the government to make it illegal to brand a child a witch.

    "We would have liked to see the government go further but we believe this action plan will go a long way to encouraging voluntary agencies to take concrete steps to fight this type of abuse," she said.


  35. Bill Nye the Science Guy asks parents not to raise creationist kids

    By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, TODAY August 28, 2012

    Creationists: Please don't teach your kids to deny evolution, begs science educator and television personality Bill Nye, who hosted "Bill Nye the Science Guy" in the 1990s.

    Nye's earning attention for a two-minute YouTube video he recorded for online knowledge forum Big Think, in which he defends the theory of evolution and says that those who don't believe in it are a drag on the nation.

    "Denial of evolution is unique to the United States," Nye says in the video. After praising the U.S. as the world's most advanced technological society, he credits that ranking to "intellectual capital we have, the general understanding of science. When you have a portion of the population that doesn't believe in that, it holds everybody back, really."

    Nye goes on to say that he asks those who don't believe in evolution to explain to him why they feel that way, and that "your world just becomes fantastically complicated when you don't believe in evolution."

    He notes that explaining dinosaurs, radioactivity and other concepts is all linked to understanding and accepting evolutionary theory, and says that "if you try to ignore that, your world view just becomes crazy, just untenable, itself inconsistent."

    His plea to parents comes with the hope that the children they're raising will become "scientifically literate."
    "And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine," Nye says. "But don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can — we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems."

    Nye also says that in a couple of centuries, the creationist viewpoint "just won't exist. There's no evidence for it."
    Nye has already helped raise at least one generation of scientists. The NASA team that helped the Curiosity rover land on Mars are big fans. In a recent question-and-answer session for Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" series, when the rover team was asked which educational or science-oriented TV shows influenced them as children, "Bill Nye the Science Guy" was called their "hands-down" favorite.

    Naturally, his video sparked some heated debate in the YouTube comments.


    Another had some fun with the concept, writing, "Why stop at creationism? There are plenty of highly unlikely science fields that we could be confusing our children with. I really want my children to learn about orgones, pherenology and crystal focusing energy. I really wish schools would consider pet sciences that confirm MY worldview."

    To view the video embedded in this article go to:


  36. The Duggars Aren’t Just a Family, They’re a Cult

    by Tracie Egan Morrissey, Jezebel September 4, 2012

    It's enraging how mainstream media outlets like Today and People treat the Duggars as though they're just an ordinary family with an extraordinary amount of children — and aren't they so cute! — when in fact, they are not.

    Yes, they're bigots and anti-choice and weirdand they subscribe to the kind of traditional gender roles that most educated people would consider "sexist." But all of those things, however detestable, are essentially personal opinions. The real problem with the Duggars is that they are a cult.

    Instead of recruiting members, Michelle and Bob just created them with their own bodies. And these kids don't stand a chance of escaping and becoming their own people with their own opinions and their own identities. Because their identities have already been established for them — based on the group — from the minute they were conceived and given a J-name.

    Think about it. If there are 19 (and counting!) Duggar children, then statistically speaking, two of them are gay. What are the chances that they will be able to live happy, mentally and emotionally healthy lives as out-and-proud homosexuals in a loving relationship with the acceptance of their family members?

    Nine of the Duggar children are female. What are the chances that they will get to go away to college and live on a campus and explore careers in finance or architecture or law or anythingother than traditional pink-collar work? (So far, Jana, 22, and Jill, 21, are "looking into" midwifery and nursing by "studying under professionals," and Jessa, 19, "has a passion for teaching," which means that she gets to homeschool the younger children.)

    Yes, they are a family, but they meet all the criteria of a mind-control group. The following are the eight factors used to identify a destructive cult, outlined by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton identifies in his seminal book on mind control, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.

    1.) Milieu Control

    Controlling the environment of members is key, and usually involves a form of isolation. Lifton explains: "Recruits can be physically separated from society, or they can be warned under threat of punishment to stay away from the world's educational media, especially when it might provoke critical thinking."

    On the show, the Duggar girls have lamented about living "three hours out from civilization." They homeschool the children, using Christian-based texts for subjects that do not involve religion (more on that later). Despite starring in a reality show, they are not allowed to watch TV, they are restricted from reading certain books, none of the children—including the adult kids— are permitted to have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. If the older children want to pursue an education, they must do so through correspondence courses from an online Christian university.

    2.) Mystical Manipulation

    As Lifton puts it: "In religious cults, God is ever-present in the workings of the organization. If a person leaves for any reason, accidents or ill-will that may befall them are always attributed to God's punishment on them."

    On the season six premiere, Jinger, 18, the arty one who wants to be a photographer, said that she desperately wants to get out of her small town and live in the city. Her sister reminded her that that might not be part of God's plan.

    "If you didn't get that, the Lord can be working and teaching you something in that area."

    Jinger robotically responded, "Yes… I need to work on my contentment!"

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    3.) Demand for Purity

    In a cult, everything is broken down into good and evil, black and white to make the "right" decision seem "obvious." With guilt and shame used as tactics to control members, purity can only be achieved by living according to the cult's ideology.

    The Duggars are not allowed to wear shorts or go to the beach. They wear special swimsuits that cover the majority of their bodies.

    They are not allowed to date freely. On an episode of 19 Kids and Counting, when asked what it's like to date a Duggar girl, Jill responded, "Talk to my dad. He knows what we're looking for in a guy and future spouse."

    Michelle Duggar actually wrote a list of rules for how a woman is to behave as a wife, that includes everything from reassuring his position of authority to styling her hair.

    see: http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/17y2zdc94bqsejpg/original.jpg

    4.) The Cult of Confession

    In a cult, sins, or the breaking of rules, must be confessed immediately, because the cult (or God) will discover it anyway. According to the Duggar's guidelines:

    Quickly admit when you have done wrong and ask for forgiveness (even if you were only 10% at fault). Don't wait till you're caught. Be sure your sins will find you out. He who covers his sin will not prosper, but he that confesses and forsakes it shall find mercy.

    5.) The "Sacred Science"

    "The cult's ideology is the ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence," Lifton declares. It is too sacred to call into question. This falls in line with the the Duggar's Guidelines, a 22-point list of absolute truths and rules for conduct.

    6.) Loading the Language

    Cults rely on "thought-terminating cliches," which are words or expressions designed to put an end to conversations that question the ideology. Many examples of this are found in the Duggars' bible speak, but a specific refrain that the family uses is: "J.O.Y.: Put Jesus first,Others second, Yourself last.

    7.) Doctrine Over Person

    In a cult, human experience and commonsense are no match for the cult's doctrine and are regarded as "hostile" to the ideology.

    This falls in line with the Duggars' homeschooling curricula which includes books from A Bekaand Bob Jones University Press. Here are some direct quotes from those texts:

    Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists.

    the [Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross…In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.

    God used the 'Trail of Tears' to bring many Indians to Christ.

    [It] cannot be shown scientifically that that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere's ozone layer.

    God has provided certain 'checks and balances' in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.

    Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created."

    8.) Dispensing of Existence

    Cult leaders decides what exists and what does not. This does not mean the right to live—of which we know the Duggars have a very staunch definition—but rather, what qualifies as being permitted into their lives. For example, TV and secular music does not exist. Bikinis do not exist. Evolution does not exist. If it does not fit into their ideology, it does not exist.

    To view the links embedded in this article go to:


  38. B.C. government continues to fail Bountifuls children

    The B.C. government is failing to protect the rights and freedoms of children in the polygamous community of Bountiful, continuing a years’ long pattern of indecision, indifference and, at times, sheer naiveté.

    By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun September 10, 2012

    Since January, a number of boys have been banished. At least 40 children have been taken away from their fathers and parcelled out to “new” dads after their biological fathers were deemed unworthy and expelled by leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

    One source says there are fewer than 30 men left among the nearly 500 FLDS followers in the southeastern B.C. community.

    Those followers are taking their orders from their prophet Warren Jeffs, a pedophile jailed in Texas for life plus 20 years for the sexual assault of girls. Among his edicts issued in the past year, Jeffs has said that only 12 to 15 men are worthy to impregnate FLDS women and girls.

    Jeffs, the convicted sex offender, is directing every aspect of children’s lives from his jail cell.

    Four children whose father was declared apostate have been banished. They range in age from six to nine.

    FLDS leaders following Jeffs’s orders have all but shuttered the Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School.

    Mothers have been ordered to minimize physical contact with children. Fathers — even those who haven’t been expelled — are forbidden from having any physical contact with their children, warned that they will be deemed to be “adulterers” if they even hug a toddler or pat a little one on his or her head.

    Play is forbidden. Toys, games, sports and all other recreational activities are banned.

    Six of the expelled men — fathers to 40 children — said in sworn affidavits last week that they’re concerned their children’s education will come from listening to hour after hour of Jeffs’s sermons, both taped and accessed through YouTube, now that the Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School has been all but shuttered.

    And what has the B.C. government done? Nothing.

    And that is “very disturbing,”said Child and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond in an interview Monday. Following the “egregious behaviour” by the FLDS, she said, what happens next is “a test of the government,” which has “tiptoed around the issue for a long time.”

    This test, as she described it, comes on the heels of the lengthy and expensive reference case that was decided by Chief Justice Robert Baumann. He determined that polygamy is so inherently harmful to children, women and society as a whole that it justifies limiting religious freedom and freedom of association.

    But while it may be a relief to some taxpayers not have to spend $1.1 million supporting Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School, no one should feel good that 250 children, from kindergarten to Grade 10, will now possibly spend their days at home only learning from the bizarre ramblings of a convicted sex offender.

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    Some of Jeffs’s tapes from the 1990s were entered as evidence in his Texas trial. One instructs girls to blind obedience of their fathers and husbands; another warns against “mixing their seed or their bloodline with the seed of Cain — the Negro.” Both of those are posted on YouTube.

    Even if BESS opens later this month, as the school authority has promised the Education Ministry, children will no longer be required to be taught by accredited teachers.

    What Turpel-Lafond wants — and what anyone who cares about the welfare and protection of children should support — is more aggressive and more creative action from the government.

    She wants more vigilance from the Education Ministry to ensure that Jeffs’s sermons — the words of a convicted sex offender — are not being read or played to children or any home-schooled FLDS children.

    Attorney-General Shirley Bond should consider a Canadian court order to bolster the American restrictions on Jeffs to include a ban on him having any contact with Canadian children via social media or taped sermons, Turpel-Lafond said.

    If necessary, she said, the government should not shy away from charging mothers or anyone else who carries out Jeffs’s orders.

    Meantime, Turpel-Lafond said, child welfare officials need to step up investigations within the FLDS community to ensure that children are not being neglected, abused or “passed like baggage from one home to another.”

    But she rightly acknowledged it’s not easy. Even banished FLDS members have little experience in the outside world, and even if they are aware of their rights and what services are available, they’re distrustful.

    None of the six fathers told child welfare officials that their children have been stripped from them, that they were concerned about their children’s schooling or that their children may not have enough to eat. None of the boys who have been kicked out of Bountiful have asked for help, either.

    This banishing of men and boys, rearranging of families and the forced marriages of girls shouldn’t be happening here or anywhere.

    While laws and regulations can’t cover everything, the B.C. government needs to catch up to the egregious and disturbing reality of Bountiful and do something about it.


  40. Ontario dad wants option of pulling kids out of class based on religious beliefs


    TORONTO - An Ontario father is taking his children's school board to court in a bid for advance notice on lesson plans that might contradict his Christian beliefs.

    Steve Tourloukis is asking Ontario's Superior Court to force the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for a heads-up when topics such as marriage, family and sexuality will be discussed in his kids' classes.

    It's discriminatory to deny him the religious accommodation when it is provided to people of other faiths, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Tourloukis said Monday at a news conference.

    He dismissed the idea of educating his children — a son in Grade 4 and a daughter in Grade 1 — in the separate school system.

    "Why should I send my children to another school?" he said. "I pay my taxes...I don't see why somebody else's discrimination should cause me, should influence where I send my children. Not in a free country. Not in Canada."

    The Hamilton father noted that he teaches his children that everyone is made in the image of God and to love people who are different from them, but said this isn't about his religious beliefs.

    "This is about a parent's right to know what is being taught in schools," Tourloukis said.

    "My children are my own. I own them. They don't belong to the school board."

    The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board would not comment on Tourloukis' case. But John Malloy, the director of education, said religious accommodations are provided when they don't harm anyone else.

    By way of example Malloy pointed to a situation in which a parent raises concerns about discussions in the classroom surrounding homosexuality.

    "There may be a young child in that class who has two moms or two dads and that child has every right to speak of his experience," Malloy said.

    "As well the child and his family who might have a religious belief that is struggling with that has the right to share their own experience.

    "We need to create the kind of environment...where compassion emerges, we learn about each other, even if we're different."

    Education Minister Laurel Broten said she believes in the province's "evidence-based curriculum" and it must be taught across Ontario.

    "We are confident and stand by our curriculum and all boards across the province have religious accommodation protocols that they put in place at a local level," she said.

    NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said decisions about accommodations are up to the local school boards.

    "That's why we have independently elected trustees," she said. "It remains their purview to make those decisions and to determine what the board can handle as far as accommodating the needs of parents and the kids."


  41. Sexual Misconduct and the American Prosperity Gospel

    by Kate Bowler, The Huffington Post October 8, 2012

    Every Sunday, millions of American Christians attend a megachurch that preaches a "prosperity gospel" of health, wealth and happiness. But in this era of supersized banks and corporations, prosperity megachurches have become just another organization that assumes it is too big to fail.

    Victory Christian Center in Oklahoma is shaken by allegations that five of its employees failed to report the alleged rape of a 13-year-old girl by another church employee on church property. Tulsa police have accused a 20-year-old man of raping the girl in the stairwell of the megachurch Aug. 13 before a church service. Police say that youth pastors John and Charica Daugherty -- the son and daughter-in-law of the church's famous founders -- and three other employees waited two weeks before notifying police.

    It's hardly the first time that prosperity megachurches have been reluctant to disclose sexual misconduct within their walls: Everyone remembers Jim Bakker's tryst with Jessica Hahn and the downfall of the Praise The Lord empire.

    But ministries have stumbled for far less. And far more.

    Bishop Eddie Long and his multimillion-dollar ministry has been stalled by allegations that young men in his church were coerced into sexual acts.

    The Atlanta Archbishop Earl Paulk Jr. and his Cathedral of the Holy Spirit evaded decades of lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct and financial impropriety until he finally resigned in 2006. (A year later Paulk revealed he had fathered a child with his brother's wife.)

    Earlier this year, Bishop Joseph Walker of the 25,000-member Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville was hit with multiple lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct with congregants.

    Though churches of all kinds weather ethical storms, few seem as committed to secrecy as prosperity megachurches. Why? The answer lies in part with the magnified role of the senior pastor. Prosperity pastors exist as larger-than-life figures. Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar and many others are living proof of their message that God does bless people with finances, health and all-around success. Their biographies (always available at the church bookstore) are understood as spiritual revelations of how to put divine principles into action.

    The prosperity gospel breeds a culture in which pastors are too important to be human, let alone to make mistakes. Their personal lives are their most valuable asset and are protected as such by church employees and congregants alike. Video surveillance of church property is prominent and pervasive. Ushers frequently double as security guards.

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    I have spent almost 10 years earning interviews with these pastors, and it can certainly be said that large organizations must naturally limit personal access. But prosperity megachurches breed a culture of cultivated distance. Office hours are virtually nonexistent. Even longtime church members cannot expect to have a personal interaction with a beloved leader who they refer to affectionately as "The Bishop," "Brother So-and-So" or sometimes "Daddy So-and-So." Most believers seem to accept this distance as part of the price of following someone so important.

    But when rumors swirl about sexual impropriety, why don't church members speak out?

    The prosperity gospel's emphasis on positive thinking and positive speech makes it difficult to raise critical issues from the inside. I have heard hundreds of sermons castigating "complainers" as unspiritual. Some pastors take this even further; riffing from Psalm 105:15, they curse opponents as doubters who speak against the Lord's anointed. People who speak up run the risk of ostracization. Further, they might simply not have a theological framework by which to separate their faith in the message with their faith in the person.

    Charismatic newspapers have struggled with this issue for years. Is it unfaithful to report the moral failings of religious leaders?

    In 1993, the editor of Charisma magazine begged his pentecostal readership to respond to the Earl Paulk scandal with a call for greater accountability and transparency in church leadership. More than a decade would pass before Paulk's ministry finally caved under the weight of the allegations.

    In 2012, it is difficult to see how these questions of accountability have been thoughtfully adjudicated. One reason may be is that these organizations' trustees and church boards are often stuffed with friends and family members, making them far less willing to risk the consequences of whistleblowing.

    In the case of Victory Christian Center, Tulsa investigators fear that more victims will surface but are concerned they may be too reluctant to speak out. When a police detective contacted some of the victims, at least two parents refused to cooperate, saying the church was "handling the situation" and they would "continue to pray about it."

    In an era of supersized organizations, it is time to hold prosperity megachurches to higher standards and demand a healthy dose of accountability.

    Kate Bowler is Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity in the United States at Duke Divinity School and author of 'Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel' (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2014).


  43. Childhood adversity affects adult brain and body functions, researchers find

    Poverty can impair working memory while physical abuse can raise risk of cardiovascular disease, scientists claim

    by Alok Jha, The Guardian October 16, 2012

    Adversity in early childhood – in the form of anything from poverty to physical abuse – has measurable changes in the function of the brain and body well into adulthood, according to researchers.

    Growing up in worse socioeconomic circumstances can impair working memory as an adult and affect the size of different parts of the brain, while abuse can lead to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease in later life, they report.

    In a series of presentations at the annual meeting of the Society ofNeuroscience in New Orleans on Tuesday, scientists reported on work studying critical periods of development for the brain. Eric Pakulak, at the University of Oregon, found that people who grew up in homes with a lower socioeconomic status had greater deficits in working memory, compared with those from wealthier homes, even when he controlled for the participants' education.

    Working memory, Pakulak said, was broadly associated with general intelligence. "As a four- or five-year-old, if you have very good attention and regulations skills, it's a foundational skill that would spill over into other areas of cognition – if you're trying to learn your letters, or to read, or learning numbers or math or a musical instrument. When you're learning a musical instrument, you're really training attention."

    He asked 72 adults to complete a test of working memory, where they had to remember the final words from a series of sentences. On average, adults from lower socioeconomic backgrounds could remember two words whereas those from more wealthy backgrounds, on average, got up to four words.

    Suzanne Houston, of the University of Southern California, showed that the size of different parts of the brain could be affected by growing up in different homes. "We found higher parent education, smaller amygdala. The higher the income, the larger the hippocampus."

    The overall size of brain regions was not of primary significance, she said, but the fact they were measurably different would allow scientists to tease out what sorts of differing environmental factors might be affecting the brain development of children from different backgrounds.

    Understanding environment can also help scientists to modify it. Pakulak said his work had informed the development of teaching courses that could, by working with parents and pre-school children from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds, improve aspects of parents' behaviour and reduce their stress, as well as improving children's behaviour and cognition within weeks.

    "Most powerfully, we've shown that, after eight weeks, children in our intervention training group show the same [result for] brain function for selective attention that their higher [socioeconomic backgrounds] peers show," Pakulak said.

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    Layla Banihashemi, of the University of Pittsburgh, focused on the enduring effects of physical abuse in childhood. She found that adults who suffered physical abuse as children had greater increases in blood pressure when they engaged in stressful tasks as adults. Overall, she said, this would put them at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

    She asked 155 healthy adults, who were 40 years old on average, to complete a childhood trauma questionnaire, a standard way of assessing the level of physical abuse someone may have suffered as a child. "As physical abuse scores increased from none to moderate to severe levels, we saw significant increases in the change in blood pressure in response to stress," said Banihashemi.

    The mean arterial blood pressure in people who had suffered no abuse during childhood changed by 2.73mmHg, from a baseline of around 90mmHg, when they were stressed in Banihashemi's experiment. In the low abuse group, the average change was 4.71mmHg, and moderate or severe abuse in childhood elicited an average change of 5.45 mmHg. "People that have these heightened blood pressure responses, in magnitude and duration, are more at risk at developing cardiovascular disease," she said.

    Banihashemi added that most of the participants in her study were not in the severely abused category. "They are primarily within the minimal range – I think this is unique because it indicates that even minimal to moderate levels of abuse can influence stress responses of the brain and body."

    Andrea Danese, a clinical lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry atKing's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, said the series of studies addressed important questions in the understanding of how childhood experiences shape adult lives.

    Pakulak's work, he said, was particularly interesting because it showed how it was possible to remediate the consequences of a lack of opportunity early in life. "These changes might support upward social mobility and improve family environment across generations."

    He added that replication of developmental studies would be crucial in working out which effects are real and which are not. "A key limitation is that human studies linking early experiences to later brain, psychological, or health outcomes are observational in nature," he said. "For ethical and practical reasons, researchers can seldom actively manipulate children's experiences and more often have to passively observe differences in experiences and relate them to certain outcomes.

    "However, because different experiences or vulnerabilities – poverty, insufficient stimulation, maltreatment, parental mental illness, low IQ – often occur together in the same children, it is challenging to confidently point to the effects of one specific experience without its active manipulation."

    Previous meta-analyses have shown that being sexually or emotionally abused as a child can affect the development of a part of the brain that controls memory and the regulation of emotions. In addition, people with a history of abuse or maltreatment during childhood are twice as likely to have recurrent episodes of depression in adulthood. These individuals are also less likely to respond well to psychological or drug-based treatments.

    To see the links embedded in this article go to:


  45. Peddling God to Schoolkids? Pay up, Christian Soldier

    Chilliwack school board's decision whether to axe Gideon bible giveaway raises an interesting funding opportunity.

    By Shannon Rupp, TheTyee.ca November 13, 2012

    Not so hasty. That's the advice I'd give the Chilliwack school board, which appears to be on the verge of ordering an about face for the Christian soldiers distributing Gideon Bibles in public schools.

    The school board will be reconsidering its Bible giveaway scheme at a meeting tonight due to a somewhat tardy review of the B.C. School Act, which states schools must be "strictly secular and nonsectarian."

    By "reconsidering" I assume they mean backtracking before someone sues. And I despair at such shortsighted thinking at a time when daily headlines warn us of shortfalls in education budgets.

    Forget about fighting the New Crusades: this isn't a religious faux pas, it's a fundraising opportunity!

    If the Gideons want the privilege of peddling their holy books to a captive market of susceptible tweens, we should charge them for it.

    The way I see it, Christianity is a lot like Coke. No, not just because both leave a vile taste in your mouth. And no, not even because a case can be made for each of them as a health hazard. They're alike in that both pop and religion need to hook their customers young before their critical thinking skills kick-in and they develop better taste.

    The Gideons aim their product at Grade 5 students for the same reason so many merchants focus on what is known as the tween market. From about 10 to 14 children are at their most vulnerable to brainwashing techniques that come under the umbrella of marketing. At the same time they're relatively independent and able to make a lot of choices about what they buy or buy into. Due to their vulnerability, they're not just a windfall now, they're often lifelong customers.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the God squad gave the sugar pushers the idea to invade the schools in the first place, since religion has always made special efforts with kids. As the Jesuits like to say, "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you a man."

    That's the reason television gets away with charging prime rates for the 30-second spots surrounding kids' cartoons. It's not like the poppets have much cash to call their own. Although the nagging skills of prepubescents in search of a Happy Meal are legendary, the ads also serve to create warm and fuzzy childhood memories that are associated forever with Froot Loops. Which explains why long past an age when you know better you catch yourself treating a broken heart with Oreos and chocolate milk.

    Why, I ask you, are school boards giving purveyors of any product free access to this publicly owned goldmine?

    It's often said that children are our most precious natural resource, and since Canada is a country founded on exploiting natural resources, I can't understand why no one else has spotted the obvious free market solution to the Gideon kerfuffle. Junk food sellers pay a premium for access to kiddies via school cafeterias and vending machines. Why should purveyors of junk ideas be treated any differently? That seems downright discriminatory.

    But we have to act fast because the window on this opportunity is closing swiftly due to the usual suspects missing the big picture.

    High profile atheists like Hemant Mehta (The Friendly Atheist) are cheering Richard Ajabu, the parent who first protested the proselytizing in October. Then the B.C. Humanist Association got into the act, calling on Education Minister Don McRae to investigate the state of secularism in public schools. It seems the Gideon invasion of Chilliwack is just the thin edge of the wedge and there are signs of creeping religion in Powell River and Abbotsford too.

    Meanwhile the Christians have been offering views like the one Art Monner expressed in a letter to the Chilliwack Times.

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  46. "Why is this irritating Mr. Ajabu's mind? I must say that Hindu, Muslim, etc. rituals are irritating Christian minds as well. Christians developed this country, not Hindus, Muslims, etc.," Monner writes. "Mr. Ajabu has only one honest solution: go back to his home country, practice his religion over there."

    By the way, Monner reminds me that someone needs to tell McRae that it's time to improve the history curriculum and make sure citizens understand that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn't just guarantee freedom of religion, it guarantees freedom from religion.

    Speaking of which, I'm not sure why so many of the faithful get the idea that freedom of religion gives them license to foist their crackpot notions on other people without so much as a by-your-leave.

    Originally the laws were meant to prevent the state imposing its religious values on citizens. Ideally, we'd like to avoid any return to the excesses of rulers like "Bloody Mary" -- that was Queen Mary, the Catholic daughter of King Henry the VIII. She earned her nickname by slaughtering her Protestant subjects in a bid to get everyone singing from the same song sheet. Or possibly to get even with daddy for inventing a new religion and loving her sister best. Who knows?

    The point is we want protection from the possibility of, say, some prime minister becoming enamoured of some American fundamentalist church and trying to impose their loony views about women on Canadian society. Just for example.

    Whenever religious disputes crop up I find that all respect for logic, facts, and common sense fly out the window. So it's easy for combatants in the holy wars to forget that the philosophical underpinning for democracy is to create a good life for everyone, however each of us defines it. Although we all define it as including a proper education, without which you have no democracy.

    Since we seem to be running out of options for funding that, I'm happy to let the evangelicals spread the good news in our schools for fee. Ditto the rest of the preachers and peddlers of various and sundry stuff, since everyone's business relies on making converts.

    Religions may celebrate the noble poor but they're inclined to be prosperous, which makes them excellent candidates for this funding project. Just consider the booty in the Vatican. Or Scientology's millions of auditing customers. And since many houses of worship sit on prime real estate while paying no taxes, they're often quite flush. With this little budget boost, I imagine we could be on our way to internationally competitive math scores in no time.

    Allowing the market to decide whose holy book gets a berth in the vending machine isn't just more egalitarian, it's nicer. Money is impersonal, so there's none of the bigotry and general nastiness that arises whenever we debate who has the best fairy-on-a-cloud. Naturally the atheist groups should feel free to fund access to the works of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.

    I've approached one school board with my fundraising plan, but so far my notes have been met with a surprising silence. That's why I'm making my vision public before it's too late.

    I fear the Chilliwack school board's meeting tonight may get religious products banned definitively from public schools before all of B.C. has a chance to consider it as just another consumer choice in the marketplace. Aren't they just as deserving of paid access to young customers as, for example, McDonalds?

    Of course there will always be some parents who let their kids wear designer duds and tote iThingys while finding it repugnant to admit their little darlings as just another target market. But I think most citizens will enjoy the irony of letting more organizations pay for the opportunity to expand their clientele while funding the only real defence against an increasingly predatory marketplace: a good education.


  47. National ad campaign promotes KidsWithoutGod.com on buses and online

    by American Humanist Association November 14, 2012

    In an effort to strengthen and support kids and teenagers who don’t happen to believe in a god, the American Humanist Association is promoting its newly created website: KidsWithoutGod.com. http://www.kidswithoutgod.com/
    This engaging resource offers a welcoming home for humanist, atheist and other non-traditionally religious kids where they can find information untainted by supernaturalism on a wide range of topics, including religion in public schools, science, discrimination, sexuality, and reading suggestions.

    The various ad images being used can be found online here: http://www.americanhumanist.org/press/KidsWithoutGod

    “Whether they already made up their minds to reject supernatural explanations, or are just questioning, it’s time to make available an online resource that’s built just for kids without God,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “These kids may be from traditionally religious families, or from families like that of President Barack Obama, whose mother was a secular humanist. KidsWithoutGod.com will be a friendly online community for kids who might be too shy to ask an adult directly what it’s like to be good without a god.”

    To make sure this new resource becomes familiar to kids across the country, the American Humanist Association is spending over $30,000 on an ad campaign promoting KidsWithoutGod.com. Advertisements will appear on 140 Metro buses in Washington DC, including 20 king-size exterior bus posters. The campaign also includes online ads that will appear on the family of websites run by Cheezburger.com and Pandora, as well as Facebook, Reddit, Google, and YouTube. Requests to purchase ads on websites run by Disney.com, National Geographic Kids and Time For Kids were turned down based on the content.

    KidsWithoutGod.com is actually two websites, one for teens and one for younger children, both accessed through the same domain.

    “With the plethora of websites geared toward teaching kids about Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, we’re pleased to add humanism to the discussion,” added Speckhardt. “Kids should know there’s another way to learn about morals and values—it doesn’t need to come from traditional religion.”


  48. Supreme Court to hear case of B.C. dad's botched home circumcision on 4-year-old

    By Natalie Stechyson, Postmedia News November 16, 2012

    OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will hear on Friday the dramatic case of a B.C. father who, for religious reasons, tried to circumcise his four-year-old son on his kitchen floor with a carpet blade and a blood coagulant meant for horses.

    Among the many issues the court will have to consider is the meaning of criminal negligence, and whether religious beliefs can go into the determination of what is reasonable behaviour, said Carissima Mathen, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

    “When you have something like this where, on an objective basis, the benefits of this procedure are mixed, and it seems like the primary motivation for circumcising your son is cultural or religious, are those beliefs something that we should factor into whether this a reasonable thing for someone to have done?” Mathen said.

    “It raises questions such as why is it, in fact, that we permit infant circumcision?”

    A trial judge found that over the years after his son’s birth, the father known only as D.J.W. decided to “make things right with God” by following the laws of Moses, according to court documents. This included circumcision.

    The trial judge found that D.J.W. had consulted with two rabbis and four physicians, and had asked several doctors to perform his son’s circumcision. None would do it because the boy would have required a general anesthetic, which could not be justified for a child so young.

    In 2007, after giving his son some homemade honey wine, D.J.W. attempted to circumcise the boy on the kitchen floor, according to court documents, wounding him in the process.

    The boy later had to have corrective surgery.

    D.J.W. was found guilty in 2009 of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, but was acquitted of two other charges. The B.C. Court of Appeal stayed the conviction and upped the charge to aggravated assault and assault with a weapon.

    In delving into the case, the top court will also look at whether the injury D.J.W. inflicted was a “wound” and if the blade he used on his son, known only as D.J., can be considered a “weapon,” said Marie-France Major, a partner at Ottawa’s Supreme Advocacy LLP.

    D.J.W. is seeking an acquittal, maintaining that the trial judge was wrong to convict him of criminal negligence, but right to acquit him of aggravated assault and assault with a weapon, according to court documents.

    Counsel for D.J.W. will argue that the man’s actions were performed with “reasonable care” and without intent to harm his son.

    The Crown will argue that this is a case about child abuse, not D.J.W.’s freedom of religion or even about circumcision.

    “D.J. was not circumcised. He was disfigured,” the Crown’s factum reads.

    A decision from Friday’s case is not expected for some time.


  49. Physical versus mental child abuse

    by Richard Dawkins December 22, 2012

    Following a recent report in the Daily Mail, various twitterers are horrified at what I am alleged to have said about child abuse. It was in The God Delusion published in 2006 and distributed in more than 2 million copies and therefore hardly red hot news.

    In view of the tweeted responses to the Daily Mail article, I thought it might be helpful to reproduce what I actually said in 2006. Incidentally, I was myself sexually abused by a teacher when I was about nine or ten years old. It was a very unpleasant and embarrassing experience, but the mental trauma was soon exorcised by comparing notes with my contemporaries who had suffered it previously at the hands of the same master. Thank goodness, I have never personally experienced what it is like to believe – really and truly and deeply believe ­– in hell. But I think it can be plausibly argued that such a deeply held belief might cause a child more long-lasting mental trauma than the temporary embarrassment of mild physical abuse.

    Anecdotes and plausibility arguments, however, need to be backed up by systematic research, and I would be interested to hear from psychologists whether there is real evidence bearing on the question. My expectation would be that violent, painful, repeated sexual abuse, especially by a family member such as a father or grandfather, probably has a more damaging effect on a child’s mental well-being than sincerely believing in hell. But ‘sexual abuse’ covers a wide spectrum of sins, and I suspect that research would show belief in hell to be more traumatic than the sort of mild feeling-up that I suffered.

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  50. Physical versus mental child abuse

    Extract from Chapter 9 of The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins

    Once, in the question time after a lecture in Dublin, I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place. It was an off-the-cuff remark made in the heat of the moment, and I was surprised that it earned a round of enthusiastic applause from that Irish audience (composed, admittedly, of Dublin intellectuals and presumably not representative of the country at large). But I was reminded of the incident later when I received a letter from an American woman in her forties who had been brought up Roman Catholic. At the age of seven, she told me, two unpleasant things had happened to her. She was sexually abused by her parish priest in his car. And, around the same time, a little schoolfriend of hers, who had tragically died, went to hell because she was a Protestant. Or so my correspondent had been led to believe by the then official doctrine of her parents’ church. Her view as a mature adult was that, of these two examples of Roman Catholic child abuse, the one physical and the other mental, the second was by far the worst. She wrote

    "Being fondled by the priest simply left the impression (from the mind of a 7 year old) as ‘yucky’ while the memory of my friend going to hell was one of cold, immeasurable fear. I never lost sleep because of the priest – but I spent many a night being terrified that the people I loved would go to Hell. It gave me nightmares."

    Admittedly, the sexual fondling she suffered in the priest’s car was relatively mild compared with, say, the pain and disgust of a sodomized altar boy. And nowadays the Catholic Church is said not to make so much of hell as it once did. But the example shows that it is at least possible for psychological abuse of children to outclass physical. It is said that Alfred Hitchcock, the great cinematic specialist in the art of frightening people, was once driving through Switzerland when he suddenly pointed out of the car window and said, ‘That is the most frightening sight I have ever seen.’ It was a priest in conversation with a little boy, his hand on the boy’s shoulder. Hitchcock leaned out of the car window and shouted, ‘Run, little boy! Run for your life!’

    ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.’ The adage is true as long as you don’t really believe the words. But if your whole upbringing, and everything you have ever been told by parents, teachers and priests, has led you to believe, really believe, utterly and completely, that sinners burn in hell (or some other obnoxious article of doctrine such as that a woman is the property of her husband), it is entirely plausible that words could have a more long-lasting and damaging effect than deeds. I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell.


  51. The critics of Richard Dawkins it seemed to me when I read the God Delusion had a point. Where was his evidence? I started to search myself and did not find a lot of research. Which I did not find surprising given that researchers have to apply for money to do the research and the culture is heavily influenced by religious authority. Fortunately, since Professor Dawkin's ground breaking book was published much more research is being done on the harm caused to children by religious indoctrination.

  52. In Sects, Children Have Few, If Any, Rights

    by Lois Kendall New York Times JANUARY 8, 2013

    Lois Kendall lives in England. She was raised in a sect that she left when she was 17. She is now writing a book, based on her Ph.D., which seeks to help others who grew up in sects. She runs special events for the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) http://www.icsahome.com/

    We all need other people. Belonging to a group is a great way for us to connect with others. Psychology researchers have found that religious groups can be very positive for people’s health. However, some religious groups are downright harmful for children, especially when they splinter off into more controlling sects. That said, any group can become oppressive and controlling and any belief system can be taken and used as a tool to control others. For example, therapy and political groups can become sect-like in such a way that they begin to resemble religious sects.

    The practices and structure of some sects mean that children are growing up in an environment where they may be at risk of medical, physical, emotional or educational neglect, psychological maltreatment, and sometimes abuse in every sense of that word, even death.

    All children, by reason of their physical size and developmental maturity, are vulnerable. The checks and balances that protect children and which we might expect to be present in most groups are usually absent from sects, as is compassion in general. However, every sect is different and the experiences of children in sects differ.

    Many, if not most children raised in sects eventually leave, either with their parents, on their own or they may be kicked out. Understandably, young people exiting sects are overwhelmed. They are moving into a culture that they are usually completely unprepared for. They may have educational gaps, or lack socialization experiences and support. They have often just experienced the loss of all they have known.

    Extended family can be pivotal in providing support to those raised in these groups, although this is often lacking, particularly if extended family still belong to the sect. A safe place to stay, a little financial assistance, or a listening accepting ear can make a great deal of difference in the life of a young person exiting a sect. For a child in a sect, even just knowing that he has relatives outside of his group who will help them can act as a psychological life-line. As Truman Oler, who grew up in Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints group, which he left at age 19, stated:

    “One of the biggest factors in my leaving was my Grandma Lorna," who had left the group years earlier. "Grandma Lorna told me no matter what I did I was always going to have a place to come back to. That meant so much to me because I just didn't know where I'd go if I left.”

    But many young people aren't so lucky.

    Perhaps the following words, written by a former sect member many years ago, might provide some inspiration: “Sometimes an ordinary life is an extraordinary achievement."


  53. Young Scientologists Face Control and Interrogation

    by Tony Ortega New York Times JANUARY 9, 2013

    Tony Ortega is a former editor of The Village Voice. He is writing a book about the Church of Scientology and blogs at Tonyortega.org.

    Over its 60-year history, the Church of Scientology has often found itself the center of controversy. But if it's in deeper trouble today, a large part of that may be because of its children.

    In 2008, three young women who had grown up in the church founded a Web site called Ex-Scientology Kids. One of them was Jenna Miscavige Hill, whose uncle, David Miscavige, runs Scientology. Hill's account of how she was regularly interrogated by Scientology's ersatz secret police -- the Office of Special Affairs -- and was kept from her own parents as part of the church's "disconnection" policy, garnered a lot of attention, and inspired a 2008 episode of "Nightline." [see Related Links section above for links]

    Hill's story -- as well as those of the other Ex-Scientology Kids, like the disturbing account by another founder of the site, Astra Woodcraft, which revealed that she had begun Scientology auditing at only 6 years old, and had signed a "billion-year" employment contract at only 14, produced a noticeable shift in the way the press and the public began to talk about the church.

    If adults in Scientology choose to believe in past lives spent on other planets and other unusual things, they have the freedom to make that decision. But what about their kids? Increasingly, we're hearing from young people who grew up not really having a choice about accepting policies of interrogation and control from Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Some of the Ex-Scientology Kids have alleged, for example, that any time they were sick, they had to turn in the name of someone who was against Scientology and therefore must have been making them ill.

    After Hill and Woodcraft made the experience of children part of the discussion, more sectors of the press seemed to treat allegations of abuse in Scientology more seriously. That reached something of a fever pitch this summer after the divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, when the public became fascinated by what their daughter, Suri, might have gone through if she had continued in her father's church. There were plenty of ex-Scientology children ready with an answer. And anyone looking for the answer to the question here (when does religion potentially cross a line with children) might consider a "security check" interrogation sheet that L. Ron Hubbard wrote for children as young as six: its first question is "What has somebody told you not to tell?" There was reason to believe Katie knew that Suri might face such questioning.

    And the interest continues. Woodcraft was recently featured on AOL in a short film. Hill's memoir, "Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape," is being published by William Morrow on Feb. 5. It should be eye-opening.


  54. Second annual day of protest against hereditary religion

    by Richard Collins - End Hereditary Religion

    January 20, 2013 will be the date for the second annual international day of protest against hereditary religion. The protest will again be held in cyberspace, but the aim is to eventually have annual protests in the real world. Complete with marches, rallies, and public speeches. Not to mention music.

    The concept of children as the property of their parents comes from antiquity and is part of the legacy of patriarchy. Modern children are conceived as persons in their own right because the notion of one person owning another person amounts to slavery. Furthermore, children have internationally recognized rights, including the right to make their own decisions according to their ability to do so. The decision to join a religion is a decision best left until a child is a mature adult. But, institutionalized religion has been unwilling to acknowledge that children have religious freedom rights. The institutions depend upon a steady stream of new adherents to maintain their flocks as older members fall into sickness and death due to aging. Until recently no one has mounted any serious challenges to hereditary religion.

    Religious authorities deny any harm comes to children and insist a child is always free to make a choice later on in life. This claim simply does not stand up to the facts as observed. Indeed, there is nothing tentative about the religious indoctrination process. It is designed to produce a lifelong adherent and it usually succeeds admirably.

    The notion of ending hereditary religion is novel and can startle people upon first hearing the proposal. An immediate reaction is often instant rejection. Defenders of the status quo argue that children need religion in order to behave. Such arguments completely ignore the fact that children in the highly secular societies of Europe and elsewhere behave just fine without being subjected to religious superstition and dogma. Moreover, the evidence is mounting that early religious indoctrination is detrimental to a flourishing intellectual life and can even produce mental anxiety problems when there is a stress on obedience and fear.

    Millions of people throughout the world agree children deserve an open future. No group has ever had the temerity to march up to the Vatican and demand the Pope stop brainwashing non consenting vulnerable children. No group has ever strode to the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado and presented a list of demands that they desist. The rules of conflict place an obligation on the dissenters to lay out their demands in no uncertain terms. The religious grooming of children carries risks, violates their rights and fair minded people demand that it officially cease.

    Here is the link to the 2013 protest event page:



  55. Lawrence Krauss: Teaching Creationism is Child Abuse

    YouTube February 4, 2013

    The last thing we want to do is water down the teaching of biology because some people don't recognize that evolution happened.

    Transcript -- It amazes me that people have pre-existing notions that defy the evidence of reality. But that they hold onto them so dearly. And one of them is the notion of creationism, or. in fact, Senator Marco Rubio, who's presumably a reasonably intelligent man and maybe even educated, was asked what's the age of the Earth, and ultimately, either because he actually believed it or he was trying to appeal to some constituency, had to argue that it's a big mystery, that somehow we should teach kids both ideas, that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that it's 4.55 billion years old, which is what it is.

    If you think about that, somehow saying that, well, anything goes, we shouldn't offend religious beliefs by requiring kids to know - to understand reality; that's child abuse. And if you think about it, teaching kids - or allowing the notion that the earth is 6,000 years old to be promulgated in schools is like teaching kids that the distance across the United States is 17 feet. That's how big an error it is.

    Now you might say, look, a lot of people believe that, so don't we owe it to them to allow their views to be present in school? Well, as I've often said, the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it. Fifty percent of the people in the United States, when we probe them each year with the National Science Foundation, think that the sun goes around the Earth, not that the Earth goes around the sun. When we asked the question - we provide the question: The Earth goes around the sun and takes a year to do it; true or false? Almost every year, 50 percent of the people get that wrong.

    Now, does that mean in schools we should allow the anti-Galilean and Copernican idea that the sun goes around the Earth to be taught? Absolutely not. If, in fact, the very fact that people don't know that, and the very fact that enough people are willing to somehow believe that Earth is 6,000 years old, means we have to do a better job of teaching physics and biology, not a worse job.

    The last thing we want to do is water down the teaching of biology because some people don't recognize that evolution happened. Evolution is the basis of modern biology and, in fact, if a lot of people don't believe it, it only means we have to do a better job teaching it. So once again, I repeat, the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it. And to overcome a situation where a United States Senator can speak such manifest nonsense with impunity is vitally important to the healthy future of our society.

    Technology and biotechnology will be the basis of our economic future. And if we allow nonsense to be promulgated in the schools, we do a disservice to our students, a disservice to our children, and we're guaranteeing that they will fall behind in a competitive world that depends upon a skilled workforce able to understand and manipulate technology and science.

    Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

    view the video at:


  56. Arm Kids to Combat Propaganda: Teach Reason - the Fourth "R" - in the Classroom

    By Carmen Yarrusso, Truthout February 22, 2013

    Yarrusso proposes an essential new discipline: teaching children how to think, rather than what to think, so that they will be armed against the potentially deadly deluge of propaganda and deceit promulgated throughout society.

    At a bare minimum, our children must acquire skills in the "3 Rs" (reading, writing and 'rithmetic) to succeed in life. Humanity is dangerously past due adding a fourth critical R to our children's curriculum -reason (actually something much broader than reason, which I call sound thinking, outlined below). Sound thinking skills are vital not only to the well-being of individuals, but also vital to the well-being (indeed, the very survival) of our species in this increasingly interdependent, complex and dangerous world.

    Our schools (and almost all of us) teach our children what to think instead of how to think - like giving them fish instead of teaching them how to fish. It takes years of studying and practicing basic principles for our children to become proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic. Why should we expect our children, or anyone else for that matter, to become proficient in sound thinking without similarly studying and practicing the basic principles for many years?

    Thinking About Thinking

    Most people go through their entire lives frequently making poor decisions because they lack the skills to consistently distinguish truth from falsehood, or to skeptically question the values they unconsciously adopted from others because they never learned how to think for themselves; they're not stupid, they simply don't know how to think soundly. For example, observe how most Americans are easily fooled by specious government lies that result in massive suffering and death here and around the world. The justifications given for the Iraq war, the drug war and the war on terror are prime examples of blatant government deceit that easily fools millions of us.

    We humans tend to believe even absurdly unreasonable things if these beliefs give us enough comfort or ease enough pain. Millions of Americans sincerely believe our government representatives primarily work for the people's interests, even as they openly take millions in legal bribes from corporate interests. We humans much prefer false beliefs that feel good over beliefs that are true, but don't feel good. The only way to defeat these extremely harmful human propensities is to begin to formally teach our children how to think soundly.

    I propose establishing a new discipline called sound thinking that eventually would be taught as a "fourth R" as specific courses of study are developed and gradually introduced into each grade level (discussed below).

    The Insane World Around Us

    Why should we expect any other world when even the most basic principles of sound thinking aren't a prominent part of humanity's basic education? Very few people learned how to read proficiently until it became part of basic education.

    It's really quite astounding that a skill so vital for a harmonious, happy, productive and peaceful human existence is not taught right along with the 3 Rs. We live in a world where the label on a can of paint says: "Do not drink," which assumes the user can read, but can't think. Our culture has countless constructs designed to protect us, or at least mitigate the harm, from our ubiquitous unsound thinking.
    Moronic warning labels, laws and lists of prescribed and proscribed behavior in magazines, books and TV relentlessly try to compensate for our poor thinking skills.

    continued in next comment...

  57. Again, we teach our children what to think instead of how to think. We arm them with long lists, compiled over the years, that say do this, but don't do that; believe this, but don't believe that -absolving them from thinking for themselves. We literally teach our children not to think. When decision time comes, if it isn't on their list, they must either go by their gut feelings or let someone else "think" for them. If the outcome goes well, they add it to the "do" side of the list; if it doesn't go well, they add it to the "don't" side - assuming they don't kill themselves in the process.

    Instead of teaching our children a method of thinking that applies to all decision-making, we let them suffer as they learn about the world the hard way by trial and error and fire. Is there a more obvious fact in the universe: that poor thinking skills guarantee poor decisions, which guarantee poor actions, which guarantee human misery?

    Humankind took a giant step forward when reading, writing, and arithmetic skills became a basic part of formal education throughout the world. It's way past time for humankind to take another giant step forward by making sound thinking skills a basic part of formal education throughout the world.

    Sound Thinking as a New Discipline

    The proposed new discipline I call sound thinking would combine principles from three existing disciplines: psychology (about 45 percent), philosophy (about 45 percent), and math (about 10 percent).

    So-called critical thinking courses offered in high schools haven't been very successful. Most critical thinking courses concentrate on teaching reason using principles of logic, while totally ignoring the much more significant psychological component of sound thinking. Understanding basic principles of logic is certainly an important part of acquiring sound thinking skills, but understanding basic principles of psychology is a much more significant part.

    The Psychological Catch-22 of Sound Thinking

    Until we attain a certain skill level in sound thinking - which we won't attain unless we study and practice the essential principles - we humans are blissfully unaware of just how poor our own sound thinking skills are. Thus we see no reason to study and practice the essential principles. A Catch-22.

    It's something like the conundrum of using our eyes to see our eyes. Unless we use a tool (like a mirror) our eyes can't see our own eyes. Unless we use a tool (like sound thinking skills) our minds can't think effectively about our own thinking and thus our inability to think soundly remains invisible to us.

    The Psychology Component of Sound Thinking

    This area of sound thinking could be summarized as thinking about what it means to be human.

    We humans have evolved to be credulous - to believe readily - as a survival mechanism. Children who "used their own minds" to decide what was dangerous and what wasn't, instead of just accepting what their caregivers told them, often didn't survive to pass on their genes. So we humans are primed to believe things without evidence. It's in our genes. But this strong human tendency doesn't serve us well in a highly interdependent, complex world where powerful corporate and government representatives regularly use (often sophisticated) deception and propaganda techniques to gain our approval. In fact, deception is clearly the currency of power centers throughout the world.

    Couple this strong propensity to believe without evidence with our strong propensity to believe what makes us feel good - and disbelieve what makes us feel bad - and we humans have a recipe for major disaster. A hundred years ago, all the unsound thinking in the world couldn't begin to destroy the planet. Today the unsound thinking of a relatively small number of powerful individuals could easily put humanity on the road to Armageddon. In fact, some very intelligent people think we're already speeding down that road.

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  58. As parents, it's gross dereliction of duty for us to not teach our children the extreme ramifications of human psychological propensities. There are hundreds of psychology books out there that could be used to develop a sound thinking curriculum for our schools. Consider the titles of just three: How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life, by Thomas Gilovich, Inevitable Illusions: How Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds, by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, and Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, by Daniel Goleman. The knowledge is clearly out there, it just needs to become part of humanity's basic education.

    We humans are masters of self-deception. We're much like blind people who don't realize they're blind, walking into walls, falling down stairs, yet seeing no need for a cane.

    Understanding the mechanisms of our inborn mental blindness and our distorting psychological propensities are of prime importance in acquiring sound thinking skills.

    The Philosophy Component of Sound Thinking

    This area of sound thinking could be summarized as thinking about thinking.

    Philosophy typically makes its formal entry into the curriculum at the college level, though a growing number of high schools offer some introduction to philosophy.

    Introducing philosophy as part of a sound thinking curriculum is a perfect way to get our children to start thinking about thinking.

    Swiss philosopher and psychologist, Jean Piaget, is considered one of the most important contributors to modern developmental psychology. He's famous for his pioneering studies of the development of thought processes, particularly in children.
    His work has had great influence on child psychology and education theory.

    But Piaget claimed that most children, prior to age 11 or 12, aren't capable of philosophical thinking, because prior to this age they aren't capable of thinking about thinking - the meta-level thinking that typifies philosophical thought. But current research contradicts his ideas. There's now broad agreement among educators that even young children are capable of thinking about thinking.

    The Socratic Method (named after Greek philosopher Socrates) would be a prominent part of a sound thinking curriculum. The basic form is a series of back and forth questions formulated as tests of logic and fact, which help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic. It seeks to expose contradictions in the students' thought processes, which eventually guides them to sound, tenable conclusions.

    William Ralph Inge said: "The object of studying philosophy is to know one's own mind, not other people's." As students become more proficient at thinking about thinking, they'll be able to step back and examine the inner workings of their own minds. Not only will this hone their sound thinking skills, it will allow them to listen to their inner spirits and guide them in their personal pursuit of happy, fulfilling lives.

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  59. The Mathematics Component of Sound Thinking

    This area of sound thinking could be summarized as mastering the arithmetic of sound thinking.

    Though logic is a main branch of philosophy, here logic refers to a field of mathematics. Students would study the basics of Boolean algebra, which can be thought of as the arithmetic of logic. Students would learn to manipulate statements and propositions based on their logical form, rather than their content.

    This area would cover the foundations of logic. For example, the law of contradiction (statements can't be true and false at the same time), the law of the excluded middle (statements must be either true or false), and the various identified logical fallacies. It would be tedious to go into detail here. Suffice it to say this area would cover the more formal aspects of logic with emphasis on the math.

    This area would also borrow some basic principles from game theory, which is essentially the study of strategic decision making. Game theory should probably be called "decision theory," but since it was originally developed around "games," the name stuck.


    We simply can't go on like this. Corrupt governments and corporations around the world exploit the gullible masses they're supposed to serve using various forms of deceit that fool most of the people most of the time. Mainstream media do much more to aid and abet these processes of deception than to expose it.

    Our government "representatives" openly sell us out to multi-national corporations. We're rapidly destroying our natural resources for profit. A major scientific study predicts there will be virtually nothing left to fish from the seas in 50 years if current trends continue. Experts say there won't be any summer ice in the Arctic within ten years. Glacier-melting around the world is accelerating. Storms are becoming more violent. But millions of us are easily duped into thinking climate change is no big deal or is even a hoax.

    Millions of us vote in meaningless elections oblivious to the fact the candidates are all pre-chosen by the power elites. No matter who wins, we the people lose. Millions of us have no jobs. Millions of us live in poverty. Millions of us have no health insurance. Our president can now execute our citizens without any due process. Domestic and international laws are becoming a quaint joke. The powerful can break laws with impunity. War has become a perpetual, legitimate business that generates massive profits for those in power. The list goes on and on.

    Humanity is on a bus racing toward a cliff. Unless we begin to arm our children with the sound thinking skills they'll need to reverse our mindless path of death and destruction, our species is doomed. The stakes couldn't be higher and time is short.


  60. Origins of religious ethics and violence

    "... education in comparative religion will do a lot to break down the in-group/out-group boundaries. If children can appreciate different cultures, different approaches to life, different moral codes, before reaching the age of accepting their own religious moral code as absolute this will do a lot to overcome religious hostility.

    by Ken Perrott, Secular News Daily 28 February 28, 2013

    Book review: "In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence" by John Teehan.

    “In the Name of God is an excellent popular presentation of the scientific understanding of the origins of religion and morality. It also examines the origins of religious violence and opens a discussion on the way humanity may reduce these problems.

    Some people will find it controversial. But not because some trends in evolutionary psychology have discredited themselves with extravagant claims. In this case the controversy will be because, as Teehan puts it, “this view of human nature – the very idea that there might be a human nature – smacks up against some strongly held political, moral, religious, and ideological positions.”

    However, the time is right. “It is only within the last few decades that we have developed the tools that can give us a fair chance of setting out a scientific account of religious origins. In fact, I believe we are living in the midst of perhaps the greatest period of intellectual discovery in the history of religious studies.” One could say the same about the scientific study of human morality.

    Outline of evolutionary origins of morality and religion

    Science sees the mind as a product of natural selection. And reproductive success involves more than biological causes. It also is dependent on a complex of other, social, skills and morality involves many of these.

    The book begins with an excellent summary of current knowledge of moral evolution. It describes the origin of altruism and its development into reciprocal altruism and indirect altruism. The evolutionary origins and development of moral emotions and moral grammar are described.

    With development of larger societies our evolved moral sympathies extended to cover large groups besides kin, clan and tribe. This involved an extended idea of the “in-group” to involve individuals who were previously in the “out-group.” There was also a need to identify those who were part of the new “out-group. Religions provided ways of doing this by encoding moral “laws’ and requirements. And by redefining the larger in-group using beliefs, traditions, taboos and ceremony. These also provided mechanisms for individuals to display their adherence to the in-group and so their trustworthiness for social interaction with other members of the group.

    Origin of god-beliefs

    Part of this approach to studying religion recognises the existence of gods. But in the minds of humans, not (necessarily) as objective entities. These concepts arose as part of our evolved strategy to over-interpret, and under-determine, stimuli. “The human mind is designed to naturally, and automatically, interpret the world in terms of agents – that is, beings acting with intention.”

    “Supernatural” agents, gods, spirits, ghost, ancestors, etc., were a natural development. Some agents were defined to have special, counter-intuitive, powers, invisibility, access to one’s mind and thoughts, etc. (I like this description of “supernatural” – always a difficult word to define – as being “counter-intuitive.”)

    However, gods were anthropomorphised. Even today most believers adhere to belief in a largely anthropomorphic god. Hence the lack of support for theological and philosophical accounts of gods.

    continued in next comment...

  61. “The more that reflective beliefs about God move away from cognitively intuitive conceptions, the less influential those beliefs become.” Gods that are radically different to people are incomprehensible and irrelevant to the ordinary believer. Teehan describes these popular or relevant gods as minimally counter-intuitive (MCI) agents.

    So this scientific description portrays religion and gods as ways of solving the problem of extension of our evolved moral intuitions. To enable organisation and operation of societies larger than kin, clan and tribe. And for defining the boundaries between this larger in-group and the still existing out-groups.

    Gods as full access strategic agents, knowing our inner thoughts and providing judgment and punishment became important to enforcement of order and social cohesion.

    Judaism and Christianity

    After describing this evolutionary model for development of morality, religion and culture Teehan sets out to analyse two historical religions. He chooses Judaism and Christianity as his examples, but argues the same analysis can be applied to other religions as well. In fact he does make a brief mention of Islam.

    His analysis of Judaism relies largely on describing the Jewish concept of God (Yahweh) and moral law as outline in the Old Testament of the bible. Yahweh does satisfy the criteria for god beliefs generated from evolved cognitive channels. It is a minimally counter-intuitive full access strategic agent. One that judges, provides legitimacy to laws and customs, and punishes. Boy, does it punish!

    And his analysis of the Ten Commandments shows how they arose from the needs of the contemporary society and the relationship of the Jewish people to surrounding tribes and people. They provided a code for social relations covering interactions with the larger in-group and the different interactions with those in the out-groups. Customs and taboos provided means for members of the in-group to display their adherence and therefore trustworthiness.

    His analysis of Christianity is different and the universalism of the acceptable in-group and concentration on values rather than clan or race offers a challenge at first sight. However, Christianity quickly developed its boundary conditions as the religion moved from values to belief – to acceptance of Christ. This, with co-option of intuitions like purity both reinforced in-group social compliance and the demonization and hostility to the out-group.

    Religious violence – the other side of moral coin.

    In-group – out-group boundaries and their importance to religion provides an explanation for religious violence. This is the other side of the coin. The negative to the positive of social harmony and religious morality.

    Teehan devotes a chapter to religious violence, its evolutionary origins and its importance and the problem it presents to the modern world. He sees this as a major justification for the scientific study of religion. Whatever our own individual beliefs, religions still exert powerful control throughout the world and we all suffer when this results in violence.

    Solutions to the problems presented by religion

    The book gets into a more speculative style when discussing possible solutions to the problems religion presents to today’s world. On the one hand he considers ways of reducing religious violence. But I am pleased he, on the other hand, also considers ways of dealing with the negative aspects of religious morality. It would have been so easy just to see religious morality as only positive. This is important because dogma and enforcement of ancient religious laws and customs means religious morality is often conservative and just not suitable for today’s societies.

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  62. Despite importance of our evolutionary history we are not trapped with the irrational intuitions. As an intelligent species we also have the ability to reason. Teehan does see solutions to these problems in rational thought. Despite recognising how flimsy this is in humans. Too often “rational thought” is just rearranging our prejudices. However, recent history does show moral progress despite religious conservatism. We no longer justify racism and slavery. We condemn controls on women and denial of their rights. Homosexuality is no longer considered evil. Our empathetic concerns often extend to other non-human animals.

    So we can advance a more rational morality much more suitable for modern society than those conservative morals inherited from religion.

    I see this as not just a rational, reflective approach to morality. Social education does lead to a change in our consciousness and like all learning this becomes incorporated into our subconscious. Just like riding a bike. Our intuitions for guilt, fairness and purity which we once co-opted to justify inhuman practices like racism and slavery, we now co-opt to support a more humane morality.

    Teehan also that education of children is important. He sees education in comparative religion will do a lot to break down the in-group/out-group boundaries. If children can appreciate different cultures, different approaches to life, different moral codes, before reaching the age of accepting their own religious moral code as absolute this will do a lot to overcome religious hostility.
    What about the non-religious

    This is a book about origins and nature of religion and religious morality. I am pleased it goes further and briefly talks about prospects which involve the non-religious. But I would like to see the evolutionary analysis extend to cover other aspects of society, including non-religious movements and institutions.

    Clearly today religion no longer plays the same role it did in the past to unite social groups, promote social cohesion and enforce the required social behaviour. We get along well in this in our post religious societies. But our evolutionary history still exerts an effect through our intuitions and cognitive psychology. Some of these will still be negative – we don’t have to hold religious beliefs to display in-group/out-group behaviour and violence.

    On the other hand, we don’t need religious beliefs to enforce social cohesion and individual morality. And this is not just a matter of a wider acceptance of reason in modern society. I believe we still have something akin to the religious minimum counter-intuitive entity. We have a conscience and in many ways we experience it as almost an external minimally counter-intuitive full access agent. Almost anthropomorphic and aware of our innermost thoughts and feelings. We will sometimes even portray our conscience as an external being, perhaps sitting on our shoulder.

    Perhaps many believers who feel their god is real and personal are thinking of their conscience. And perhaps non-believers who deny the existence of gods have an almost divine respect for their own conscience.

    Austin Dacey develops this idea in his book The Secular Conscience. But I would have loved to see Teehan’s analysis extended to cover this idea.


    In summary, this is an excellent book. It gives a good summary of current scientific understanding of evolution of morality and religion. It discusses religious violence as the other side of the moral coin. And there is a useful discussion of the problem of religion in modern society and ways we can overcome the negative aspects of our evolved moral and cognitive systems.

    The evolutionary study of religion and morality is a new science, but already a fruitful one. This book provides the ideal introduction.


  63. Sophia Investigates The Good News Club

    by Scott Burdick· YouTube February 7, 2013


    Do you think children should be told they are evil and deserve to die? This is what the Good News Club teaches -- in Public Elementary Schools, no less.

    In 2001, a conservative Supreme Court overthrew a New York public school's policy of excluding adult-led religious proselytizing groups like The Good News Club from operating in its schools, turning the Establishment Clause on its head. Since then the Good News Clubs have been on a tear, and now can be found in well over 3000 public elementary schools across America.

    The Clubs, which are sponsored by an organization called the Child Evangelism Fellowship, are designed to indoctrinate very young children in a very specific and deeply fundamentalist version of the Christian faith -- one that endorses Biblical "inerrancy" and creationism, and emphasizes obedience at all costs. By operating in public schools, the Clubs deceive small children into thinking that their school supports this particular form of the Christian religion. Kids who attend the Clubs have said that the religion of the Good News Club "must be true, because they teach it in school, and they don't teach things in school that aren't true."

    The introduction of such proselytizing Clubs sows division in formerly harmonious school communities, weakening support for public education as a whole. Good News Clubs are coming to a school near you. Catch the documentary first.

    Please visit Katherine Stewart's website for more information on her book, "The Good News Club"

    Or these websites with lots of information on what you can do to combat these clubs in general, or if they come to your school. http://www.goodnewsclubs.info http://goodnewsclubs.info/civilremedies.htm

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  64. Here's the Permission form Bob signed (I've omitted Sophia's last name). Bob is now claiming that he only signed permission for Sophia to use the footage for a school project, which is clearly not true. I'll be happy to provide a copy of the form Bob and all the other people interviewed for the film signed if YouTube requests them, seeing as Bob has now filed with YouTube to have the film removed.

    I give Sophia ***** and her team permission to record and use my interviews as well as footage of the Good News Spectacular for the purposes of creating a video documentary, or for any other projects she may give permission for in the future.

    I understand that at my request, I will be provided with a DVD copy of Sophia ******'s final documentary project that I may use in it's completed form free of charge.

    I understand that the recordings of my interview, footage from the Good News Spectacular, and the transcripts (if transcribed) will be maintained and made available indefinitely by the filmmaker for such research, production (e.g., radio, television, film festivals, World Wide Web, exhibitions, related advertisements), and educational purposes as the filmmaker/photographer shall determine.

    I hereby grant, and transfer to the filmmaker/photographer, all rights, title, and interest in the interview and video documentary, including without limitation the literary rights and the copyright. I hereby release filmmaker/photographer, his/her legal representatives and assigns, from all claims and liability relating to said documentary and photographs.

    I attest that I have voluntarily agreed to be interviewed and that this document contains the entire and complete agreement concerning the use and preservation of my interview.

    Signed and dated by Bob -- he also wrote his address and phone # -- and I filmed him doing so. Here is a link to the actual release form with Bob's signature -- I just blacked out Sophia's last name and Bob's personal information.

    And here's a link that proves the claim that the GNC teaches children they deserve death -- from their own course books. http://goodnewsclubs.info/youdeservedeath.htm

  65. Traditional healer gets 8 yrs IHL for causing bodily injury to babies in witchcraft ritual

    by Malawi News Agency, The Maravi Post March 13, 2013

    THYOLO--Thyolo Second Grade Magistrate, Lameck Mkwapatira has sentenced a traditional healer to eight years imprisoned with hard labour for grievously wounding two 10-month-old babies on their buttocks when he alleged to have been cleansing them from witchcraft.

    Mkwapatira convicted and sentenced Frank Josamu, 35, who was arrested on February 21 for wounding the children in witchcraft cleansing which ended in the babies sustaining second degree burns that covered 18 percent of their total body surface area which includes the entire bums.

    Police Prosecutor, Inspector Lloyd Kachotsa told the court that the accused deserved a custodial sentence due to the permanent scars inflicted on the unsuspecting children and for not adhering to messages carried on the extensive advocacy on the issues of witchcraft.

    Kachotsa said the culprit deserved a stiffer sentence because the children are in great pain and he also tendered a medical report which disclosed that the children are still suffering in hospital because the wounds are also getting infected with stools when they are defecating.

    However, Josamu who pleaded guilty to the offence told the court to be lenient with him claiming he did not choose to cleanse the people, but was forced by their insistence and that he looks after orphans and his children who will suffer if he is imprisoned.

    When passing the 8 year sentence, Mkwapatira said the convict should spend time in custody for wounding innocent souls who were not aware of what is happening and did not deny as they cannot make decisions of their own. He added that the wounds have inflicted permanent scars on their bodies and it is not certain if they will be potent in future.

    He slapped him with 8 years for causing harm to each child, but the sentences will run concurrently .

    In the cleansing, the traditional healer brought the people from Ntholola Village who comprised 10 children aged between 10 months and 4 years to be exorcized by sitting steaming their buttocks.

    Josamu hails from Namagony a Village, Sub T/A Nanseta in Thyolo.


  66. VIOLATING CHILDREN'S RIGHTS: Harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition

    21/10/2012 | International NGO Council on Violence Against Children


    Document: http://www.crin.org/docs/InCo_Report_15Oct.pdf

    العربية / Español / Français / Русский

    All violations of children’s rights can legitimately be described as harmful practices, but the common characteristic of the violations highlighted in this report is that they are based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition and are perpetrated and actively condoned by the child’s parents or significant adults within the child’s community. Indeed, they often still enjoy majority support within communities or whole states.

    Harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition are often perpetrated against very young children or infants, who are clearly lacking the capacity to consent or to refuse consent themselves. Assumptions of parental powers or rights over their children allow the perpetration of a wide range of these practices, many by parents directly, some by other individuals with parents’ assumed or actual consent. Yet the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by almost every state, favours the replacement of the concept of parental “rights” over children with parental “responsibilities,” ensuring that the child’s best interests are parents’ “basic concern” (Article 18).

    Many of the practices identified in this report involve gross and unlawful discrimination against groups of children, including gender discrimination, and in particular discrimination against children with disabilities. Some are based on tradition and/or superstition, some on religious belief, others on false information or beliefs about child development and health. Many involve extreme physical violence and pain leading, in some cases intentionally, to death or serious injury. Others involve mental violence. All are an assault on the child’s human dignity and violate universally agreed international human rights standards.

    The International NGO Council on Violence against Children believes the continued legality and social and cultural acceptance of a very wide range of these practices in many states illustrates a devastating failure of international and regional human rights mechanisms to provoke the necessary challenge, prohibition and elimination. Comprehensive, children’s rights-based analysis and action are needed now. Above all, there must be an assertion of every state’s immediate obligation to ensure all children their right to full respect for their human dignity and physical integrity.

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  67. This short report is designed to complement other current activities in the UN system that are focusing on harmful practices and children and will hopefully lead to more effective action. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, held an International Expert Consultation on the issue in June 2012 in Addis Ababa in which the International NGO Council was represented and prepared a submission. Two UN Treaty Bodies, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), are collaborating in drafting a General Comment/General Recommendation on harmful practices.

    The International NGO Council believes that the continuing legal and social acceptance of these violations and the slow progress in identifying and effectively addressing them are symptomatic of children’s low status, as possessions rather than individuals and rights-holders, in societies across all regions. The oft-quoted mantra of the UN Study was “No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable.” Tragically, many adults are still justifying even extreme violence, both physical and mental, on spurious grounds of tradition, culture or religion.

    The report first looks at the definition and scope of harmful traditional, cultural and religious practices violating children’s rights. Section 3 outlines the human rights context for their prohibition and elimination. Section 4 lists practices identified through a call for evidence issued by the International NGO Council earlier in 2012 and additional desk research. It also provides some examples of legal and other measures already taken to challenge and eliminate them. Section 5 provides recommendations for action by states, UN and UN-related agencies, INGOs, NGOs, national human rights institutions and others.

    Further Information:

    More resources on children's rights and harmful practices based on tradition, culture, religion or superstition

    More on the International NGO Council on Violence Against Children

    Organisation Contact Details:

    International NGO Council on Violence Against Children

    Email: adcoresearch@crin.org

    Website: www.crin.org/violence/NGOs

  68. The dark side of home schooling: creating soldiers for the culture war

    The Christian home school subculture isn't a children-first movement. Some former students are bravely speaking out

    by Katherine Stewart, The Guardian UK May 8, 2013

    Several decades ago, political activists on the religious right began to put together an "ideology machine". Home schooling was a big part of the plan. The idea was to breed and "train up" an army of culture warriors. We now are faced with the consequences of their actions, some of which are quite disturbing.

    According to the Department of Education, the home schooling student population doubled in between 1999 and 2007, to 1.5 million students, and there is reason to think the growth has continued. Though families opt to home school for many different reasons, a large part of the growth has come from Christian fundamentalist sects. Children in that first wave are now old enough to talk about their experiences. In many cases, what they have to say is quite alarming.

    When he was growing up in California, Ryan Lee Stollar was a stellar home schooling student. His oratory skills at got him invited to home schooling conferences around the country, where he debated public policy and spread the word about the "virtues" of an authentically Christian home school education.

    Now 28, looking back on his childhood, it all seems like a delusion. As Stollar explains:

    "The Christian home school subculture isn't a children-first movement. It is, for all intents and purposes, an ideology-first movement. There is a massive, well-oiled machine of ideology that is churning out soldiers for the culture war. Home schooling is both the breeding ground – literally, when you consider the Quiverfull concept – and the training ground for this machinery. I say this as someone who was raised in that world."

    Too frequently, Stollar says, the consequences of putting ideology over children include anxiety, depression, distrust of authority, and issues around sexuality. This is evident from the testimonials that appear on Home schoolers Anonymous, the website that Stollar established, along with several partners.

    Stollar's own home schooling experience started off well. But over time, as his family became immersed in the world of Christian home schooling, his "education" became less straightforward and more ideological. "I particularly remember my science curriculum," he says. "We used It Couldn't Just Happen, which wasn't really a science textbook. It was really just an apologetics textbook which taught students cliché refutations of evolutionism."

    Many parents start off home schooling with the intention of inculcating their children in a mainstream form of Christianity. However, as many HA bloggers report, it is easy to get sucked into the vortex of fundamentalist home schooling because extremists have cornered the market – running the conventions, publishing the curricula, setting up the blogs.

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  69. As HA blogger Julie Ann Smith, a Washington state mother of seven, says:

    "If you are the average Christian home schooler with no agenda, and you have the choice between attending a secular home schooling convention and a Christian one, chances are you'll choose the Christian convention. But they only allow certain speakers who follow their agenda. So you have no clue. What you don't realize is that they are being run by Christian Reconstructionists."

    Smith is referring to the Calvinist movement, founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, that advocates a Christian takeover of the political system in order to "purify" the nation and cleanse it of the sin of secularism. Rushdoony taught that public schools – "statist education," in his words – promote chaos, primitivism, and "a vast disintegration into the void". He advocated home schooling as a way to rear a generation that could carry out the mission of retaking the nation for Christ.

    Much of fundamentalist home schooling is driven by deeply sexist and patriarchal ideology. The Quiverfull movement teaches that women need to submit to their husbands and have as many babies as they possibly can. The effects of these ideas on children are devastating, as a glance at HA's blogs show.

    "The story of being home schooled was a story of being told to sit down and shut up. 'An ideal woman is quiet and submissive,' I was told time and time again," writes Phoebe. "The silence and submission I was pushed into was ultimately a place of loneliness, bitterness and almost crippling insecurity."

    The fundamentalist home schooling world also advocates an extraordinarily authoritarian view of the parental role. Corporal punishment is frequently encouraged. The effects are, again, often quite devastating. "People who experienced authoritarian parents tend to turn into adults with poor boundaries," writes one pseudonymous HA blogger. "It's an extremely unsatisfying and unsustainable way to live."

    In America, we often take for granted that parents have an absolute right to decide how their children will be educated, but this leads us to overlook the fact that children have rights, too, and that we as a modern society are obligated to make sure that they get an education. Families should be allowed to pursue sensible homeschooling options, but current arrangements have allowed some families to replace education with fundamentalist indoctrination.

    As the appearance of HA reminds us, the damage done by this kind of false education falls not just on our society as a whole, but on the children who are pumped through the ideology machine. They are the traumatized veterans of our culture wars. We should listen to their stories, and support them as they find their way forward.

    to read the links embedded in this article see:


  70. Medical Marijuana Should not be for Adults Only

    by Margaret Storey, Opinion, Chicago Tribune May 15, 2013

    My 9-year-old daughter has Aicardi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes extremely hard-to-control seizures, debilitation, disability and early mortality. She began having seizures at three months of age, and since that time has had multiple seizures every day, with rare exception — probably to the tune of nearly 200,000 seizures in her lifetime.

    For most families, even one such day would be an emergency. For ours, it is the norm.

    My daughter is a beautiful, loving girl who goes to school, enjoys music and parks, loves to be read to and adores looking at big, modern art in museums. She cannot walk independently, cannot talk and wears diapers. Every day she is at risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, or SUDEP, which accounts for 34 percent of all sudden deaths in children.

    She is one of the 3 million Americans who have epilepsy, and one of the 40 percent whose seizures cannot be controlled by anti-seizure drugs. She has tried 10 anti-seizure medications as well as a high-protein/low-carbohydrate diet called the ketogenic diet; she takes three anti-seizure medications at once and has a vagus nerve stimulator implant that sends mild electrical pulses to the brain. These drugs help her, but she nonetheless experiences an average of three seizures every day. Moreover, the medications cause persistent side effects that negatively impact her quality of life, particularly her gastrointestinal, bone, dental, cognitive and mental health.

    The Illinois Senate Executive Committee recently voted, 10-5, to move the House-passed medical marijuana legislation to the Senate for a vote. The bill is expected to pass, and though Gov. Pat Quinn has not committed to signing it, the general expectation is that the bill will become law. This should be received as great news for the many people with “debilitating” conditions that the bill is supposed to help — people for whom medical science has documented real, measurable and safe outcomes of the controlled use of cannabis or its component of chemical compounds.

    It’s too bad that the legislature has ignored the medical needs of some of the most debilitated, and most vulnerable, patients in the state: children with epilepsy.

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  71. Imagine her father’s and my reaction upon learning that the legislature, in its concern not to send a “message” to kids that it is safe to smoke marijuana, decided that kids like ours, for whom medical cannabis has the potential to be as safe and effective as typical anti-seizure drugs, should be excluded from the benefits of this new law.

    They have done so, I hope, only out of ignorance. Take, for instance, the parent survey conducted by Stanford University neurology researcher Dr. Catherine Jacobson. These parents had children with some of the most difficult-to-treat syndromes of epilepsy found in children: Dravet syndrome, Doose syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. All of the kids were being treated with a nonpsychoactive compound made from cannabis — cannabidiol. Their parents report remarkable results — 83 percent noted that their children’s seizure frequency had been reduced.

    Two-thirds of these children achieved a greater than 80 percent reduction in seizure incidence. Seventy-five percent of the parents reported success in weaning their kids from other ASDs; a similar proportion noted improved sleep, mood and alertness in their children. Most important, the survey’s author notes that common negative side effects reported on other ASDs were notably absent on cannabidiol, including rash, vomiting, nausea, confusion, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, dizziness and aggressive behavior.

    There is no likelihood that my daughter will become a drug addict from using a compound within cannabis in a medically controlled setting. There is, however, a good chance that participation in a controlled study of these compounds could open the door to new treatments for her, and the many children like her, who desperately need medical innovation to save or improve their lives.

    I urge the bill’s chief sponsors, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, and Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, to reconsider and amend the bill to allow for the medically controlled and regulated use of cannabis for pediatric and adult patients with uncontrolled epilepsy. And to all Illinoisans who know or love someone with epilepsy, please let your legislators hear your voice on this matter.

    Margaret Storey lives in Evanston.


  72. NOTE: The following article deals with the issue of children's rights in the context of irreversible medical procedures. Medically unnecessary and risky surgery mutilated the child “without notice or a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.’s best interest.” This is a ground breaking lawsuit, the first of its kind, but this kind of medical mutilation of voiceless children happens everyday with medically unnecessary circumcision. In all matters -- medical, educational, religious, etc. -- the principle of the best interests of the child, including the future rights that child will have as an adult, must take precedent.

    As the article discusses, there should have been no medical intervention whatsoever in this case until the child became old enough to make his own decisions related to his sexuality. Similarly, no child should be indoctrinated into any one religion until they are old enough to make their own autonomous decision on religion. Fully protecting a child's rights in childhood also protects those rights the child will have as an adult.


    Groundbreaking SPLC lawsuit accuses South Carolina, doctors and hospitals of unnecessary surgery on infant

    Southern Poverty Law Center May 14, 2013

    When M.C. was born eight years ago, the newborn was not easily identifiable as a male or female.

    Doctors determined the child had an intersex condition, which is a difference in reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical definition of male or female – a condition that years ago would have been called “hermaphroditism.”

    When M.C. was just 16 months old and in the care of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, doctors and department officials decided the child should undergo sex assignment surgery to make M.C. a girl. There was no medical reason to perform this surgery, which robbed M.C. not only of his healthy genital tissue but also of the opportunity to decide what should happen to his own body.

    Now 8 years old, M.C. identifies as a boy – wearing boy clothes and hairstyles – despite an irreversible surgery that has left him with female genitalia. He has announced to his school and his religious community that he has always been a boy.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a groundbreaking lawsuit today on behalf of M.C.’s adoptive parents, Mark and Pam Crawford. It charges that the state of South Carolina violated M.C.’s constitutional rights when doctors surgically removed his phallus while he was in foster care, potentially sterilizing him and greatly reducing, if not eliminating, his sexual function.

    The lawsuit describes how the defendants violated M.C.’s substantive and procedural due process rights, outlined in the 14th Amendment, by subjecting M.C. to the unnecessary surgery “without notice or a hearing to determine whether the procedure was in M.C.’s best interest.”

    It also charges that the doctors committed medical malpractice by failing to obtain adequate informed consent before proceeding. The defendants told M.C.’s guardians to allow the sex assignment surgery but did not provide information regarding the surgery’s catastrophic risks, including sterilization and greatly reduced or wholly eliminated sexual function. Most important, they did not tell them that the procedure was medically unnecessary.

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  73. Today’s lawsuit is the first of its kind to be filed in the United States.

    “This case is about ensuring the safety of all children who do not have a voice,” said Alesdair H. Ittelson, SPLC staff attorney. “No one advocated for M.C.’s right to be free from unnecessary medical intervention at a time when the state was entrusted with his safety and well-being. It is high time all involved answer for the needless injury they inflicted on M.C.”

    Surgery performed since 1950s

    Since the 1950s, doctors have performed this type of sex assignment surgery on infants with intersex conditions even when the child’s ultimate gender remains unknown. In M.C.’s condition, there is no way to tell whether the child will ultimately identify as a boy or a girl. Instead, the doctors decided to assign M.C. female and change his body to fit their stereotype of how a girl should look. As is the case here, doctors often fail to provide full information about the procedure’s risks to the child’s parents or guardians.

    Although long-term outcomes of today’s genital surgeries in children have not been well-studied, many doctors and advocates recommend that children with intersex conditions be assigned a gender at birth but postpone any unnecessary surgery until they are old enough to self-identify with a gender and make their own decisions about their bodies.

    Risks of sex assignment surgery include the following:

    The initial sex assignment may be at odds with the gender identity that develops.
    Diminished sexual sensation
    Sexual dysfunction
    Chronic pain
    Loss of potential fertility
    Loss of the important health benefits of hormones

    “By performing this needless surgery, the state and the doctors told M.C. that he was not acceptable or loveable the way he was born,” said Pam Crawford, M.C.’s adoptive mother. “They disfigured him because they could not accept him for who he was – not because he needed any surgery. M.C. is a charming, enchanting and resilient kid. We will not stop until we get justice for our son.”

    The Crawfords hope to prevent other children with intersex condition from being forced to endure unwanted sex assignment surgery.

    Sean Saifa Wall, an adult with an intersex condition, was raised as a female but now lives his life as a man. He remembers the pressure doctors put on his mother to consent to vaginal construction surgery during puberty. After hearing the details of how invasive and barbaric the surgery appeared, Wall’s mother refused, sparing him from irreparable injury.

    “Infants and children should be loved and accepted in the bodies they were born in,” Wall said. “I speak for the many who cannot speak, including those living with the shame, isolation and secrecy that surround people with intersex conditions. I say to them, you are not alone and it’s time for us to be proud of these bodies we inhabit.”

    The lawsuit, filed in state and federal court, joins a long line of SPLC cases brought on behalf of those harmed by medical recklessness, including a 1973 case on behalf of young African-American women sterilized against their will.

    The lawsuit, M.C. v. Medical University of South Carolina, was filed in County of Richland Court of Common Pleas. M.C. v. Aaronson was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. Defendants include the South Carolina Department of Social Services, Greenville Hospital System, Medical University of South Carolina and individual employees.

    SPLC co-counsel include Advocates for Informed Choice and pro bono counsel for the private law firms of Janet, Jenner & Suggs and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.


  74. The Global Plight of Disabled Children


    A United Nations report, “The State of the World’s Children,” http://www.unicef.org/publications/index_69379.html

    underscores the moral bankruptcy of Senate Republicans who blocked ratification of a treaty to help disabled people around the world. There is scant data on how many children have such disabilities or how their lives are affected. One outdated estimate is that some 93 million children, one in 20 of those 14 or younger, live with a moderate or severe disability of some kind. The issue is how they might be helped to overcome their disabilities and become productive members of their societies.

    A United Nations convention would ban discrimination against persons with disabilities and accord them the same rights as those without disabilities. It has been ratified by 127 countries and the European Union. President Obama has signed it, but, in December, the Senate, though supporting the convention by a hefty 61 to 38, fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification.

    This was mostly because Senate Republicans caved in to far-right ideologues who contended, erroneously, that the convention would infringe on American sovereignty, usher in socialism, and allow United Nations bureaucrats to prohibit home-schooling or wrench disabled children from their parents’ arms.

    The new United Nations report finds that children with disabilities are the least likely to receive health care or go to school and are among the most vulnerable to violence, abuse and neglect, especially if they are hidden away in institutions because of social stigma or parental inability to raise them.

    The disabled children and their communities would benefit if the children were accommodated in schools, workplaces, vocational training, transportation and local rehabilitation programs — and if all countries ratified the convention and a related convention on the rights of children.


  75. Judge decides Staats trial for harming their son will continue

    By Cameron Probert, iFIBER One News, Washington June 20, 2013

    EPHRATA – The trial of Robert and Michelle Staats will continue.

    Grant County Superior Court Judge Evan Sperline rejected a motion to dismiss the charges against the Staats on Wednesday, June 19. The judge previously asked for more information from the attorneys.

    The Staats are each charged with criminal mistreatment in the first degree and criminal mistreatment in the second degree for allegedly refusing to take their nearly 3-year-old son to a hospital after a naturopath doctor advised them to, instead they contacted an East Asian alternative medical doctor.

    They allegedly didn't trust traditional medicine, and hospitals, according to a Grant County Sheriff's Office report.

    The defense attorneys, Stephen Hormel and Douglas Phelps, made three arguments to dismiss the case. The first was the law violated the separation of church and state because it had an exemption for Christian Scientists. They argued the exemption made the entire law unconstitutional.

    Prosecutor Angus Lee disagreed, arguing even if the exemption was unconstitutional, it didn't affect the section of law the Staats were charged under.

    Sperline agreed with Lee, stating the exemption was unconstitutional, but it didn't affect the rest of the law. He noted the Staats aren't Christian Scientists, and nothing in the exemption affects them.

    Sperline pointed out the section of the law containing the legal definition of the crimes was passed in 1986, and the exemption was added in 1997.

    “Further, there can be little doubt that the Legislature would criminalize extreme, damaging child neglect even if it foresaw that an exemption, as to the failure to provide medical treatment, for Christian Scientists would be declared invalid,” Sperline wrote in a court document.

    The defense attorney's second and third arguments were they considered the law was vague. First arguing it was too vague for the Staats to know what they were doing was against the law, and then arguing it would be too vague for anyone to know what they were doing was against the law.

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  76. They argued several alternative medical treatments are recognized by state law. The judge disagreed.

    “The defendants complain that the statute is facially void for vagueness because it provides no means to determine what health care treatment is medically necessary,” Sperline wrote.

    “In resolving this claim, the court will have in mind that the statute doesn't criminalize withholding medically necessary health care; rather, it criminalizes withholding health care under circumstances in which the parent knows that doing so will risk bodily injury to the child, and in, which a reasonable person would provide the withheld care.”

    Sperline pointed out when viewed from the prosecution's point of view the charges against the Staats aren't vague.

    “As has also been noted, this is not an issue of traditional Western medical modalities versus less mainstream or East Asian approaches. Rather, the focus is on what the defendants withheld from (their son), whether it was reckless to do so, and whether it resulted in great bodily harm,” wrote Sperline.
    Emergency personnel became aware of the Staats' child's condition when Michelle Staats called 9-1-1 after the child stopped breathing, according to an investigation report.

    Doctors at Samaritan Healthcare found the child weighed between 8 to 10 pounds, and they needed to use a defibrillator twice before they could find a pulse.

    The Staats' attorneys and the investigators’ report agree on the issues leading up to the child being taken to Samaritan, stating the child wouldn't keep solid foods down. The police reported the issue started in February 2011.

    Michelle Staats worked with Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to develop a plan to get the child to eat. When the child didn't improve by July 2011, an employee advised her to contact a doctor, according to court records.

    She contacted a “naturopath” doctor in November 2011. After treatments didn't seem to help the child, the doctor reportedly advised the Staats to take the child to the hospital, police reported.

    The Staats allegedly decided not to take the child to the hospital instead deciding to pray for the child to get better, according to Hormel.

    Michelle Staats reportedly told police she prayed about whether to take the child to the hospital, and decided not to after getting an upset stomach.

    Instead she turned to a San Francisco self-proclaimed healer for treatments. Investigators reported she had one of his books, “Miracle Healing from China … Qigong.” One of the claims by the doctor includes, “In more than 30 research studies, Qigong has been found to reverse aging.”


  77. Your Child, Not Your Property

    by Big Love, Little House (blog) January 29, 2013

    My husband was playing with my daughter at the dinner table and was having cute little conversations with her. He tickled her underarm (which she normally thinks is hilarious) and suddenly she said “DON’T tickle me.” And that was that. Wes apologized and told her he wouldn’t.

    Children are born to us, they are our blessed responsibility, a gift even. But they are not our property. If I lean in, to give my daughter a hug and she says that she doesn’t want a hug, I do not give her a hug at that moment. I do shower her with love and affection all the time, but if she states a preference that at that time, she does not wish for me to hug her, I respect her wishes.
    We were out of town and stopped at a gas station. A very loud (and I’m sure, strange-seeming to my daughter) woman started trying to engage my daugther in a conversation. My daughter refused to say hello and said (quite loudly) “I don’t like that woman, mommy.” I wasn’t mortified, my daughter was expressing discomfort and trusting her gut instinct. I said “You don’t have to like her, but I want you to know that you are safe to say “Hi” if you want to because you are with mommy and daddy.” My daughter wasn’t being a snob. She was expressing fear and needed to feel that it was ok.

    How many times do you see parents/people violate children’s boundaries like this every day? Children are tickled (when they’ve expressed displeasure at it) they are taunted and teased and disregarded when they express emotions or “embarass” their parents. We send the message loud and clear from a very early age that children have no rights to their own bodies and they do not have the right to their emotions. The message is:

    “What happens to you, and what you feel, does not matter.”

    Does this mean that I don’t give my daughter a bath if she doesn’t want it? Does this mean that I don’t feed her healthy food because she wants to eat only candy? (Actually she would only eat apples all day every day if we’d let her) No. By explaining the necessity of baths and self-care, I’m showing her to respect her body. I’m teaching her to practice taking care of what belongs to her. I don’t get ridiculous with it, but I do want to send my daughter the message that, in age-appropriate levels, SHE is in control of her own body and she has the right to her own feelings.

    Maybe in some way, I’m hoping to inoculate her against people who try to violate her boundaries in the future. I want that same sass that she has as a two-year-old to be present, unbroken, loud and clear when she’ll need it most. As an adult.


  78. Bad Science Fridays teaches young scientists to rely on logic

    by Adrian Rogers, The Spokesman-Review July 4, 2013

    A thin, L-shaped metal rod in each hand, 7-year-old Jacob Fausti was dowsing for dinosaurs.

    His instructions were to hold the rods gently, letting them hover in parallel over a line of Styrofoam cups. If they crossed, according to the rules of dowsing, he’d hit the jackpot: There would be a toy dinosaur underneath.

    He was about to experience some “bad science,” the subject of a monthly series of programs – Bad Science Fridays – at Mobius Science Center. The programs introduce scientific concepts and the value of critical thinking through familiar subjects: Dowsing. Horoscopes. Those big pyramids in Egypt that may or may not have been built by aliens.

    “I don’t want you to move them, right?” Don Riefler, education director at the children’s science center, told Jacob, as a line of first-graders from Deer Park Elementary School pressed forward to see what his dowsing rods would do next. “They’ve got to move on their own.”

    Nothing … nothing … nothing. Then, suddenly, the rods crossed over the second cup in on his right. But what was this? No dino underneath?

    It’s called the ideomotor effect, Riefler explained. The body reacts subconsciously to an idea, and it’s behind phenomena such as dowsing (more often done for water, oil or graves) and Ouiji boards that seem to spell out messages from the dead.

    And that’s why “Dowsing and Dead People” appears at the science center alongside exhibits on fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, chaos theory and space. By uncovering the flaws in bad science, kids begin to understand good science.

    Building scientific literacy is about more than learning the laws of physics or memorizing the periodic table.

    “At the basis of all science – well, at the basis of just about everything – is the ability to think critically and the ability to look at an argument or an idea and examine it,” said Aaron Berenbach, the science center’s education coordinator.

    The implications extend beyond the classroom or laboratory – protecting consumers from claims about flimsy medicine, for example.

    continued below

  79. For the Bad Science Friday about astrology – which offered a lesson on human psychology – staffers handed every student in a school group a strip of paper printed with his or her star sign and an “ambiguous but flattering” personality description. All the students rated their profiles as accurate.

    Then they learned they’d each received the same profile; only the star signs were different.

    “They definitely got the point,” Riefler said, “that what was happening was they were reading into it, and everybody could read into that vague personality profile.”

    It took about four seconds for kids on another Bad Science Friday to figure out how ancient Egyptians could have used ramps to build the pyramids, science center staffer Alexe Helmke said.

    While humans have enjoyed the same brain capacity and problem-solving abilities for many centuries, she said, people often assume old civilizations weren’t as smart as modern ones, she said.

    “A lot of people turn to extraordinary notions: ‘Well, aliens must have built them from outer space,’ ” Helmke said.

    More so than adults, children generally seem more willing to set aside an attachment to a particular idea, “at least as far as science goes,” Riefler said.

    Take Bigfoot. If there were a stable breeding population of very tall hairy creatures living in the Northwest, the science center’s educators said, there would be irrefutable evidence – scat, bones, maybe a nonblurry photo.

    “All of that will not talk an adult out of an idea they’ve had for 40 or 50 years,” Riefler said.

    The first Bad Science Friday included a UFO-hunting and Bigfoot-tracking demonstration – kids learned to create fake photos by manipulating a camera and to use the sides of their clenched fists to create baby Bigfoot tracks.

    Skepticism comes with cognitive development, said Jennifer Smith, a Deer Park Elementary School teacher who helped escort the school’s first-graders on their end-of-the-year field trip. Part of teaching science is teaching kids how to ask questions.

    Still, “They are some who are natural question askers,” Smith said. “I think they’re born that way.”


  80. Atheism a creed that needs the same religious protections of Christianity and Islam: Ontario Human Rights Tribunal

    by Tristin Hopper, The National Post August 28, 2013

    Atheism is a creed deserving of the the same religious protections as Christianity, Islam, and other faiths, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has ruled in a new decision.

    “Protection against discrimination because of religion, in my view, must include protection of the applicants’ belief that there is no deity,” wrote David A. Wright, associate chair of the commission, in an August 13 decision.

    The ruling was spurred by a complaint from self-described secular humanist Rene Chouinard, who was opposing the District School Board of Niagara’s policy regarding the distribution of Gideon bibles.

    Since 1964, as in the rest of Canada, the Gideons had offered free red Bibles to Grade 5 students in the district—provided the students had first obtained parental consent.

    Three years ago, in a protest move, Mr. Choinard, a Grimsby, Ont. father of two school-age children, offered to similarly distribute the Atheist text “Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children.”

    When, as Mr. Chouinard expected, the board rejected his offer, he took his case to the Human Rights Tribunal, alleging that the school district has “discriminated against them … because of creed.”

    The District School Board of Niagara has since updated their policy to welcome the distribution of other religious texts, so long as the religion is included in the Ontario Multifaith Information Manual, a periodically updated book detailing the beliefs, holy books and dietary restrictions of groups ranging from Hare Krishnas to to Rastafarians.

    So far, no other religious group aside from the Gideons has taken the school board up on the offer and, as the manual does not include atheists or other non-believers, Mr, Chouinard’s proposal remained ineligible.

    For that reason, on August 13th the Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the policy was biased.

    “The policy was discriminatory because its definition of acceptable materials violated substantive equality by excluding the kinds of materials central to many creeds,” reads the decision.

    Not only did it block Atheist texts, wrote the Tribunal, but texts by Falun Gong and other “emerging or non-traditional creeds.” The decision also noted that some creeds, such as Native Spiritual Beliefs, do not even have texts.

    Even some Christian texts, if they were not deemed sacred enough, were banned by the policy.

    “The restriction to sacred or foundational texts excludes some creeds and is therefore discriminatory,” read the ruling.

    Throughout, Mr. Chouinard has maintained that his intention was not to put bundles of “Just Pretend,” a book that treats God as a make-believe figure, into the hands of schoolchildren — but rather to critique the current policy.

    “We believe that if non-theistic materials were distributed in an Ontario Public School … people would insist that the Public School system is not the place for people with a religious agenda; and that is exactly our point!” he wrote in a letter to the school council.

    Ultimately, the Human Rights Tribunal had no objection to the Gideons distributing bibles, provided that “participation is optional” and that all creeds were included under school policy.

    “If [the school board] is prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of Christian texts to committed atheists, it must also be prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of atheist texts to religious Christians,” wrote Mr. Wright.

    Under a Human Rights Tribunal Order, if the school board wants to continue to allow the distribution of Gideon bibles, it has six months to draw up a new policy “permitting distribution of creed and religious publications in its schools.”


  81. School Is a Prison — And Damaging Our Kids

    Longer school years aren't the answer. The problem is school itself. Compulsory teach-and-test simply doesn't work.

    By Peter Gray AlterNet August 30, 2013

    Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions, believing that’s what they need to become productive and happy adults. Many have qualms about how well schools are performing, but the conventional wisdom is that these issues can be resolved with more money, better teachers, more challenging curricula and/or more rigorous tests.

    But what if the real problem is school itself? The unfortunate fact is that one of our most cherished institutions is, by its very nature, failing our children and our society.

    School is a place where children are compelled to be, and where their freedom is greatly restricted — far more restricted than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we have been compelling our children to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there is strong evidence (summarized in my recent book) that this is causing serious psychological damage to many of them. Moreover, the more scientists have learned about how children naturally learn, the more we have come to realize that children learn most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school.

    Compulsory schooling has been a fixture of our culture now for several generations. It’s hard today for most people to even imagine how children would learn what they must for success in our culture without it. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are so enamored with schooling that they want even longer school days and school years. Most people assume that the basic design of schools, as we know them today, emerged from scientific evidence about how children learn best. But, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

    Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research into how children learn. The blueprint still used for today’s schools was developed during the Protestant Reformation, when schools were created to teach children to read the Bible, to believe scripture without questioning it, and to obey authority figures without questioning them. The early founders of schools were quite clear about this in their writings. The idea that schools might be places for nurturing critical thought, creativity, self-initiative or ability to learn on one’s own — the kinds of skills most needed for success in today’s economy — was the furthest thing from their minds. To them, willfulness was sinfulness, to be drilled or beaten out of children, not encouraged.

    When schools were taken over by the state and made compulsory, and directed toward secular ends, the basic structure and methods of schooling remained unchanged. Subsequent attempts at reform have failed because, though they have tinkered some with the structure, they haven’t altered the basic blueprint. The top-down, teach-and-test method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments rather than by curiosity or by any real, felt desire to know, is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else. It’s no wonder that many of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and innovators either left school early (like Thomas Edison), or said they hated school and learned despite it, not because of it (like Albert Einstein).

    It’s no wonder that, today, even the “best students” (maybe especially them) often report that they are “burned out” by the schooling process. One recent top graduate, explaining to a newspaper reporter why he was postponing college, put it this way: “I was consumed with doing well and didn’t sleep a lot the last two years. I would have five or six hours of homework each night. The last thing I wanted was more school.”

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  82. Most students — whether A students, C students, or failing ones — have lost their zest for learning by the time they reach middle school or high school. In a recent research study, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyl and Jeremy Hunter fitted more than 800 sixth- through 12th-graders, from 33 different schools across the country, with special wristwatches that provided a signal at random times of day. Whenever the signal appeared, they were to fill out a questionnaire indicating where they were, what they were doing, and how happy or unhappy they were at the moment. The lowest levels of happiness, by far, occurred when they were in school and the highest levels occurred when they were out of school playing or talking with friends. In school, they were often bored, anxious or both. Other researchers have shown that, with each successive grade, students develop increasingly negative attitudes toward the subjects taught, especially math and science.

    As a society, we tend to shrug off such findings. We’re not surprised that learning is unpleasant. We think of it as bad-tasting medicine, tough to swallow but good for children in the long run. Some people even think that the very unpleasantness of school is good for children, so they will learn to tolerate unpleasantness, because life after school is unpleasant. Perhaps this sad view of life derives from schooling. Of course, life has its ups and downs, in adulthood and in childhood. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn to tolerate unpleasantness without adding unpleasant schooling to the mix. Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing questions that are their own real questions, and goals that are their own real-life goals. In such conditions, learning is usually joyful.

    * * *

    I have spent much of my research career studying how children learn. Children come into the world beautifully designed to direct their own education. They are endowed by nature with powerful educative instincts, including curiosity, playfulness, sociability, attentiveness to the activities around them, desire to grow up and desire to do what older children and adults can do.

    The evidence for all this as it applies to little children lies before the eyes of anyone who has watched a child grow from birth up to school age. Through their own efforts, children learn to walk, run, jump and climb. They learn from scratch their native language, and with that, they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, charm and ask questions. Through questioning and exploring, they acquire an enormous amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them, and in their play, they practice skills that promote their physical, intellectual, social and emotional development. They do all this before anyone, in any systematic way, tries to teach them anything.

    This amazing drive and capacity to learn does not turn itself off when children turn 5 or 6. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system of schooling is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.

    The focus of my own research has been on learning in children who are of “school age,” but who aren’t sent to school, or not to school as conventionally understood. I’ve examined how children learn in cultures that don’t have schools, especially hunter-gatherer cultures, the kinds of cultures in which our species evolved. I’ve also studied learning in our culture by children who are trusted to take charge of their own education and are provided with the opportunity and means to educate themselves. In these settings, children’s natural curiosity and zest for learning persist all the way through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood.

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  83. Another researcher who has documented the power of self-directed learning is Sugata Mitra. He set up outdoor computers in very poor neighborhoods in India, where most children did not go to school and many were illiterate. Wherever he placed such a computer, dozens of children would gather around and, with no help from adults, figure out how to use it. Those who could not read began to do so through interacting with the computer and with other children around it. The computers gave the children access to the whole world’s knowledge — in one remote village, children who previously knew nothing about microorganisms learned about bacteria and viruses through their interactions with the computer and began to use this new knowledge appropriately in conversations.

    Mitra’s experiments illustrate how three core aspects of human nature — curiosity, playfulness and sociability — can combine beautifully to serve the purpose of education. Curiosity drew the children to the computer and motivated them to explore it; playfulness motivated them to practice many computer skills; and sociability allowed each child’s learning to spread like wildfire to dozens of other children.

    * * *

    In our culture today, there are many routes through which children can apply their natural drives and instincts to learn everything they need to know for a successful adulthood. More than 2 million children in the United States now base their education at home and in the larger community rather than at school, and an ever-increasing proportion of their families have scrapped set curricular approaches in favor of self-directed learning. These parents do not give lessons or tests, but provide a home environment that facilitates learning, and they help connect their children to community activities from which they learn. Some of these families began this approach long ago and have adult children who are now thriving in higher education and careers.

    My colleague Gina Riley and I recently surveyed 232 such families. According to these families’ reports, the main benefits of this approach lie in the children’s continued curiosity, creativity and zest for learning, and in the freedom and harmony the entire family experiences when relieved of the pressures and schedules of school and the burden of manipulating children into doing homework that doesn’t interest them. As one parent put it, “Our lives are essentially stress free … We have a very close relationship built on love, mutual trust, and mutual respect.” She went on to write: “As an educator I see that my daughter has amazing critical thinking skills that many of my adult college students lack … My daughter lives and learns in the real world and loves it. What more could I ask for?”

    Riley and I are currently completing a study of approximately 80 adults who themselves were home schooled in this self-directed way when they were of “school age.” The full results are not yet in, but it is clear that those who took this approach came from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and have, as a whole, gone on very successfully into adulthood.

    As the self-directed approach to home education has increased in popularity, more and more centers and networks have popped up to offer resources, social connections and additional educational opportunities for children and families taking this approach (many are listed on a new compendium website, AlternativesToSchool.com). With these — along with libraries and other community resources that have always been available and, of course, the Internet — the educational opportunities are boundless.

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  84. But not every family has the wherewithal or desire to facilitate children’s self-directed education at home. For many, a better option is a so-called democratic school, where children have charge of their own education in a setting that optimizes their educational opportunities and where there are many other children with whom to socialize and learn. (Such schools should not be confused with Montessori schools or other types of “progressive” schools that permit more play and offer more choices than do standard schools but nevertheless maintain a top-down, teacher-to-student system of authority and a relatively uniform curriculum that all students are expected to follow.)

    Over many years, I’ve observed learning at one such place, the Sudbury Valley School, in Framingham, Mass. It’s called a school, but is as different as you can imagine from what we usually think of as “school.” The students, who range in age from 4 to about 18, are free all day to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break any of the school rules. The rules, which are created democratically at the School Meeting by students and staff together, have nothing to do with learning; they have to do with keeping peace and order and are enforced by a judicial system modeled after that of our larger society. The school currently has about 150 students and 10 staff members, and it operates on a per-student budget that is less than half that of the surrounding public schools. It accepts essentially all students who apply and whose parents agree to enroll them.

    Today approximately two dozen schools exist in the United States that are explicitly modeled after Sudbury Valley, and others exist that have most of its basic characteristics. Compared to other private schools, these schools charge low tuitions, and some have sliding tuition scales. Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a wide variety of personalities.

    To people who haven’t witnessed it firsthand, it’s hard to imagine how such a school could work. Yet Sudbury Valley has been in existence now for 45 years and has hundreds of graduates, who are doing just fine in the real world.

    Many years ago, my colleague David Chanoff and I conducted a follow-up study of the school’s graduates. We found that those who had pursued higher education (about 75 percent) reported no particular difficulty getting into the schools of their choice and doing well there once admitted. Some, including a few who had never previously taken a formal course, had gone on successfully to highly prestigious colleges and universities. As a group, regardless of whether or not they had pursued higher education, they were remarkably successful in finding employment. They had gone into a wide range of occupations, including business, arts, science, medicine, other service professions, and skilled trades. Most said that a major benefit of their Sudbury Valley education was that they had acquired a sense of personal responsibility and capacity for self-control that served them well in all aspects of their lives. Many also commented on the importance of the democratic values that they had acquired, through practice, at the school. More recently, two larger studies of graduates, conducted by the school itself, have produced similar results and been published as books.

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  85. Students in this setting learn to read, calculate and use computers in the same playful ways that kids in hunter-gatherer cultures learn to hunt and gather. They also develop more specialized interests and passions, which can lead directly or indirectly to careers. For example, a highly successful machinist and inventor spent his childhood playfully building things and taking things apart to see how they worked. Another graduate, who became a professor of mathematics, had played intensively and creatively with math. And yet another, a high-fashion pattern maker, had played at making doll clothes and then clothes for herself and friends.

    I’m convinced that Sudbury Valley works so well as an educational setting because it provides the conditions that optimize children’s natural abilities to educate themselves. These conditions include a) unlimited opportunity to play and explore (which allows them to discover and pursue their interests); b) access to a variety of caring and knowledgeable adults who are helpers, not judges; c) free age mixing among children and adolescents (age-mixed play is far more conducive to learning than is play among those who are all at the same level); and d) direct participation in a stable, moral, democratic community in which they acquire a sense of responsibility for others, not just for themselves. Think about it:None of these conditions are present in standard schools.

    I don’t mean to paint self-directed education as a panacea. Life is not always smooth, no matter what the conditions. But my research and others’ research in these settings has convinced me, beyond any doubt, that the natural drives and abilities of young people to learn are fully sufficient to motivate their entire education. When they want or need help from others, they ask for it. We don’t have to force people to learn; all we need to do is provide them the freedom and opportunities to do so. Of course, not everyone is going to learn the same things, in the same way, or at the same time. But that’s a good thing. Our society thrives on diversity. Our culture needs people with many different kinds of skills, interests and personalities. Most of all, we need people who are pursuing life with passion and who take responsibility for themselves throughout life. These are the common denominators of people who have taken charge of their own education.

    Peter Gray is a research professor in the Department of Psychology at Boston College. The author of Psychology, a highly regarded college textbook, he writes a popular blog called Freedom to Learn for Psychology Today.

    to read the links embedded in this article go to:


  86. I Wonder

    from Sam Harris's blog, September 16, 2013


    I am very happy to announce that my wife and editor, Annaka Harris, has published her first book. The purpose of I Wonder is to teach very young children (and their parents) to cherish the feeling of “not knowing” as the basis of all discovery. In a world riven by false certainties, I can think of no more important lesson to impart to the next generation.

    I Wonder is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

    Advance Praise for I Wonder:

    “I Wonder offers crucial lessons in emotional intelligence, starting with being secure in the face of uncertainty. Annaka Harris has woven a beautiful tapestry of art, storytelling, and profound wisdom. Any young child—and parent—will benefit from sharing this wondrous book together.”
    —Daniel Goleman, author of the #1 bestseller Emotional Intelligence

    “What an enchanting children’s book – beautiful to look at, charming to read, and with a theme that wonderers of all ages should appreciate.”
    —Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works

    “I Wonder captures the beauty of life and the mystery of our world, sweeping child and adult into a powerful journey of discovery. This is a book for children of all ages that will nurture a lifelong love of learning. Magnificent!”
    —Daniel Siegel, author of Mindsight and The Whole-Brain Child

    “I Wonder is a delightful book that explores and encourages the playful beginnings of wonder and a joyful appreciation of natural mystery.”
    —Eric Litwin, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling children’s book, I Love My White Shoes and Pete the Cat

    “This marvelous book will successfully sustain and stimulate your child’s natural sense of curiosity and wonder about this mysterious world we live in.”
    —V.S. Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human

    “I Wonder is a reminder to parents and their children that mysteries are a gift and that curiosity and wonderment are the treasures of a childlike mind.”
    —Janna Levin, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Columbia University, and author of How The Universe Got Its Spots

    “I Wonder teaches the very young that we should marvel at the mysteries of the universe and not be afraid of them. Our world would be a lot better if every human understood this. Start with your own children and this book.”
    —Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm, Handspring, and the Redwood Neuroscience Institute, and author of On Intelligence

  87. Corporate Child Abuse The Unseen Global Epidemic

    By Prof. John McMurtry, Global Research, October 04, 2013

    “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul”, Nelson Mandela says, “than the way in which it treats its children”.

    Who would disagree?

    Yet today children may be assaulted, diseased, or killed by pervasive corporate drugs, junk-foods and beverages, perverted by mindless violence in multiple modes, deployed as dead-end labour with no benefits, and then dumped into a corporate future of debt enslavement and meaningless work. How could this increasing systematic abuse be publicly licensed at every level? What kind of society could turn a blind eye to its dominant institutions laying waste the lives of the young and humanity’s future itself?

    The abuse is built into the system. All rights of child care-givers themselves – from parent workers to social life support systems – are written out of corporate ‘trade’ treaties which override legislatures to guarantee “investor profits” as their sole ruling goal. Children are at the bottom, and most dispossessed by the life-blind global system. The excuse of “more competitive conditions” means, in fact, a race to the bottom of wages and benefits for families, social security, debt-free higher education, and protections against toxic environments to which the young are most vulnerable. At the same time, escalating sales of junk foods, malnutrition, and cultural debasement propel the sole growth achieved – ever more money demand at the top.

    The mechanisms of abuse are not tempered by reforms as in the past, but deepened and widened. Omnibus Harper budgets stripping even scientific and social fact-finding bodies and transnational foreign corporate rights dictated in the name of “Trans-Pacific Partnership” and “Canada-Europe Trade Agreement” advance the Great Dispossession further. An unasked question joins the dots, but is taboo to pose. What war, ecological or social collapse is not now propelled by rapidly creeping corporate rights to loot and pollute societies, ecosystems and – least considered – the young?

    I explain the entire system in the expanded second edition of the Cancer Stage of Capitalism. Omnivorous money sequences of the corporate rich multiply through their life hosts overriding social life defences at every level and silencing critics. None are bound to serve any life support function but only to maximize profits. They surround, they intimidate, they bribe and threaten with corporate lobby armies to overrun legislatures and launch attack ads and wars with the mass media as their propaganda vehicles. All the classical properties of bullying abuse are there – pervasive one-way demands, ganging up, threats of force, false pretexts, weaker opponents picked on and exploited, and brutal attack of what resists. Yet bullies are seen only among the young themselves, while government in the interest of children’s well-being is increasingly sacrificed to the fanatic doctrine that the market God’s “invisible hand” is Providence and all commodities are “goods”.

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  88. How Corporate Abuse Moves to the Insides of Children

    Recall General Electric frontman and U.S. president Ronald Reagan broadcasting the post-1980 war against unions, peace activists, environmentalists, and any community not subservient to U.S. corporate rights. Tiny and starving Nicaragua which had arisen against U.S.-backed tyranny by bringing public education and health benefits to poverty-stricken children was singled out for example. “All they have to do is say ‘Uncle’, Reagan smirked to the press when questioned on what Nicaragua could do to stop the U.S. attacks. They did not and the U.S. mined their central harbour and financed Contras with drug money for weapons to attack and burn the schools and clinics. The Reagan government and the media then ignored the six-billion dollar judgement of the International Court of Justice against the war crimes and the false claim of “self defense”. Abusers always continue if not named and children are always the primary victims.

    With now the bank-engineered collapse of social-democratic Europe, oil-rich opponents cleared for corporate looting across the Middle East, and the Earth’s primary life support systems in slow motion collapse, we are apt to overlook the direct corporate invasion of the minds and bodies of children. As elsewhere, “giving them what they want” is the justification. And all the buttons are pushed to hook the young to addictive corporate products – child and adolescent fear of being left out, addictive desires for more sugar, salt and fat, primeval fascination with images of violence and destruction, craving for attention in stereotype forms, inertial boredom with no life function, the loss of social play areas by the great defunding, restless compulsion to distraction, and black hole ego doubts. All the enticements to addictive and unhealthy products form a common pattern of child abuse, and it is far more life disabling than any in the past. Beneath detection, a pathogenenic epidemic grows.

    In response to commodity diseases from skyrocketing obesity and unfitness to unprecedented youth depression and psychic numbing to violence, almost no public life standards of what is pushed to the young are allowed into the super-lucrative market. Even while children’s growing consumption of multiplying junk foods, pharma drugs, and life-destructive entertainments addict them to what may in the end ruin their lives, preventative life standards are furiously lobbied against. As Joel Bakan’s Childhood Under Siege/ How Big Business Targets Your Children shows, the systemic abuse is ignored, denied and blocked against public regulation. Even with deadly diabetes by junk foods and beverages and hormonal disruption and body poisoning by the countless untested chemicals, materials and drugs fed into their lives, the young find no protection from this systematic and growing corporate abuse, not even mandatory package information to prevent their still rising profitable disorders of body and mind.

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  89. Understanding Corporate Child Abuse as System Pathology

    Bakan’s classic film and book, The Corporation, has revealed step by step the “corporation as psychopath”. Professor of law as well as parent, he recalls the “overarching idea” of modern civilization which has been aggressively pushed aside: “that children and childhood need the kind of public protection and support that only society could offer” (p. 164). Now he observes, the big corporations are “free to – - pitch unhealthy ideas and products- – to pressure scientists and physicians to boost sales of their psychotropic drugs – - – to turn children’s environments – indeed their very bodies – into toxic stews – - and to profit from school systems increasingly geared to big business