'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 child is forced to be a Catholic

A father tortures his child as a witch 

A child is forced to be a Jain nun


  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.

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  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.

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  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” (p. 164). Horrendous hours and hazards of child labour are what has long attracted attention, and Bakan reports that these are returning today (e.g., pp. 129-38).

    R.D. Laing’s classic Massey lecture, The Politics of the Family goes deeper than issues of child labour by arguing that the young are made to live inside a dramatic play whose roles are mapped from one generation to the next. They are “good” or “bad” as they follow or resist the roles imposed on them. The sea-change today is that the stage and script are dictated by the pervasive marketing of big-business corporations (pp. 3-5 and passim). They set the stages and the props of youth activities and dreams across domains of sport, peer play and relations, identity formation, eating and drinking, creative expression, clinical care, increasingly schooling, and even sleeping. Their ads condition children from the crib onwards and hard-push harmful addicting substances. This is why, for example, “only 1% of all ads for food are for healthy nourishment” (p. 210). Selling unhealthy desires through every window of impressionable minds has multiplied so that almost no region of life including schools is free from the total agenda.

    All the while corporately-controlled governments abdicate an ultimate obligation of modern government – enabling protection of the young’s lives and humanity’s healthy future. On pervasive corporate violence products, for example, the American Medical Association reports: “Aggressive and violent thought and behaviour are systematically induced in virtually all children by corporate games” (p. 201). The occupation of childhood and youth has now reached 9 to11 hours daily for ages 8-to-18-year-olds who are glued to multi-media orchestrated by commercial corporations (p. 207). Children are motivated by unneeded desires and adaptation to a surrounding culture which has a “panopticon marketing system” to hook into their “deep emotions” (pp. 17-27). Non-stop repetition of slogans and false images substitute for reason and life care, and the logic of ads is that you are defective without the product. In essence, addictive dependency to junk commodities of every kind drives the growth of corporate sales and disablement of children’s life capacities follows. What greater abuse of children could there be?

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  90. Bakan reports copious findings on Big Pharma buying doctors with favours, planting articles in name journals, inventing child illnesses to prescribe medications to, and drugging the young from infancy on with the unsafe substances they push (pp. 65-114). Along with the corporate invasion of children’s healthcare goes the invasion of public education (pp. 139-71, 245-56). Administrators with now corporate executive salaries for no educational function collaborate with the agenda, and mechanical testing devices closed to independent academic examination are the Trojan horse for a mass lock-step of miseducation (pp. 140-62). Bakan is aware that the whole trend of corporatization of the classroom and educational institutions “undermines the role of education in promoting critical thought and intelligent reflection” (p. 47). Indeed it wars against them in principle. For reasoning and critical research require learners to address problems independently of corporate profits and to penetrate behind market-conditioned beliefs. Big-business demands the opposite. It maximizes money returns as its first and final principle of thought and judgement, and selects against any truth or knowledge conflicting with this goal.

    Corporate child abuse, in short, far surpasses all other forms of child abuse put together. But in a world where both parents are at work to survive and big money always wins elections, the life interests of children are bullied out of view. “Corporations [are] large, powerful and dominating institutions”, Bakan summarizes, “deliberately programmed to exploit and neglect others in pursuit of wealth for themselves” (p. 175).

    So what is the resolution? Bakan emphasizes the pre-cautionary principle and laws against clear harms to the young. He emphasizes “values” and “teaching what is good for them and what is not” (pp. 49-50). Yet we have no principled criterion of either. They are self-evident once seen. The good for children is whatever enables life capacities to coherently grow, and the bad is whatever disables them. Corporate dominion goes the opposite direction. Thus unfitness, obesity, depression, egoic fantasies, aggressive violence, and aimlessness increase the more its profitable child abuse runs out of control. This is the heart of our disorder. Public regulation of corporations by tested life-capacity standards is the solution.

    John McMurtry is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and author of What is Good? What is Bad? The Value of All Values Across Time, Place and Theories UNESCO Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS). His expanded second edition of The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure has just been released across continents.


  91. Why Bible Believers Have Such a Hard Time Getting Child Protection Right

    by Valerie Tarico, Away Point October 21, 2013

    Far too often, the news cycle includes a tragic story about a child dying because his or her parents applied religious teachings with too much vigor. The most recent victim, Hana Williams, was adopted from Ethiopia by Evangelical parents who believed that parenting required “breaking her will.” Stories like Hana’s provoke rounds of collective soul-searching: How did we miss the signs? What can we do differently to protect children better? But some people find those questions more threatening than the abuse itself.

    Mark Meadows is the congressman and Sunday school teacher from North Carolina who rallied the Tea Party to shut down government operations this month. His passion for blocking contraceptive access has been on national display. Less known is the fact that Meadows also leads a fight against rights and protections for children. He is the sponsor of a “parental rights amendment” that has 64 signers in congress.

    Or consider Scott Lively, the anti-gay preacher who recently announced that he is running for governor of Massachusetts. Mr.Lively is known internationally for fanning the sometimes lethal flames of homophobia in Uganda. But his admirers see him as more than a single-issue candidate. According to Tea Party enthusiast Brian Camenker, “He is principled, pro-family, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-2nd-amendment, pro-religion, pro-parents’ rights, and utterly fearless.”

    Conservatives Christians like Meadows and Lively oppose both national and international protections for children—including compulsory education–which they see as government overreach. Thanks to their advocacy, the United States is one of two nations (out of 193) that has failed to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. (We stand with Somalia!) They also oppose the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because it “replaces parental rights with the ‘best interest of the child’ standard.”

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  92. How did parent rights make it onto the Tea Party list along with God, guns, gays and gyne-politics? The kinds of fears expressed by parental rights advocates offer a clue. Among the horrors threatened should the U.N. treaty pass:

    “Parents could no longer spank their children. Children would have the legal right to choose their own religion. Parents would be permitted only to give advice. America would be under a binding legal obligation to massively increase its federal spending on children’s programs.”

    But underneath these fears lies a sense of parent entitlement. Parents have rights dammit, and children don’t. And to understand the roots of that attitude, one needs to look no farther than the Bible. Futurist Sara Robinson has pointed out that women in the Bible are actually possessions of men, protected (when they are) by property laws rather than civil rights laws. In this regard, women of the Iron Age fall into the same category with slaves, livestock–and children.

    Modern Christians like to depict children as the little lambs of Jesus, who is their Good Shepherd. Sunday school teachers sing, “Red and yellow, black and white/They are precious in his sight.” Preachers quote a verse from the book of Matthew which says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6NIV).

    But the broader theme of scripture is that a man’s children are his possessions, to be trained, traded and treated as he sees fit, even if it kills them. This concept of the child emerges in the Hebrew Tanakh, beginning with the book of Genesis, and continues into the Christian New Testament. Stories, commandments, legal codes, and theology are built on this premise and make sense only when we understand fatherhood to mean ownership. ....

    to read the rest of this article and the numerous links embedded in it go to:


  93. Teen atheist asks Dawkins advice on how to come out

    by CherryTeresa.com OCTOBER 21, 2013

    Friday night, at the talk given by Richard Dawkins and D.J. Grothe at University of Southern California, there was a portion for audience member questions. One person, whom I believe said he was 14 years old and from the SoCal area, asked how he could come out as an atheist. Dr. Dawkins paused and appeared to be in thought on how to respond to this in the short time and limited information he knew about him. He asked the young man if his parents knew about his atheism and were okay with it, to which he said yes. Dawkins said that it was a good start for him and that he was in a much better position to live life out as a nonbeliever compared to many others.

    I agree with Dawkins’ assessment, as the advice for one person would be much different from someone in a different situation, whether it be living in a religious part of the country or being part of a family where this sort of thing could result in a nonbeliever being shunned.

    I have some additional thoughts on this as well. You can make a big announcement if you want, but since not everyone feels comfortable doing this, here are some things that worked for me, which I would mention to a young person in a similar situation to his.

    Mention it in the classroom. You are at a time when discussions are likely a regular part of certain classes. If a teacher mentions something about how we are a nation of many religions, you might raise your hand and add that we’re also a nation of the nonreligious, including yourself. In Philosophy class, if you are learning about many of the great thinkers but the syllabus doesn’t include any free thinkers, you might find a way to mention those like Bertrand Russell or Daniel Dennett. These are just examples. Feel free to do it in a way that best suits you.

    Disclose it to your peers. This doesn’t have to be a special phone call or announcement, it can just be mentioned when it comes up naturally in conversation. When a classmate asks in December which holiday you celebrate, you could reply with something like, “I celebrate Christmas, but it’s for cultural reasons, as I don’t believe in a god,” “My family celebrates Hanukah, but I am a secular Jew,” “I celebrate the Winter Solstice, since that’s the reason for the season,” “I don’t celebrate any religious holidays since I do not believe in any of them,” or whatever answer fits your customs and beliefs.

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  94. Your answer may end up leading to a bigger conversation and get more in-depth. If they’re curious about what you do or don’t celebrate and brought it up to you in the first place, they may be interested to learn more about you.

    Share your atheism on social networking sites. If you are allowed to be online and have profiles, you can mention your views on your bios. On facebook, you can choose atheism, secular humanism, and the like as your religious view.

    Display symbols related to atheism. There’s the option of incorporating atheist symbols or the logos of organizations related to that. Not everyone wants to do this, but if you find it appealing, you could wear a necklace, put badges on your backpack, wear a shirt related to free thought, put stickers on your binders, or display magnets on your locker. Something as simple as wearing the Scarlet A symbol on a shirt or necklace can start a discussion. Those who know what it means will know you’re an atheist. Those who don’t may end up asking what the A stands for. There’s also the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the atomic whirl, Invisible Pink Unicorn, and other symbols, as well as shirts that have messages and images. Wearing any of these can not only help you express yourself, but can also encourage others to come out as well.

    You don’t have to do all of these or any of these. There’s no order of which to do first, it’s what you are comfortable with. The important thing to mention is that we all are in different situations, so only do what you feel is right. Do these when and if you feel ready. Don’t feel forced to come out and don’t force anyone else out. But know that when you do come out there is a community who will be there for you. There are organizations in SoCal like Center for Inquiry and Atheists United and there is an even greater online community of atheists around the world. The young man on Friday night took a big step by mentioning his atheism and I hope that the positive response he got from Dawkins and fellow audience members can be the beginning of him being able to live openly.

    The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has the Out Campaign website, which is a good resource for additional information: http://outcampaign.org/RichardDawkinsIntroduction


  95. Children of religious parents at more risk of abuse

    By Joe Lepper, Children & Young People Now October 31, 2013

    Children with parents strongly committed to a faith are at greater risk of abuse than their peers, a victim support group has claimed

    The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) has made the warning in response to a report by the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) that criticises the role of churches, schools, youth groups and care homes in protecting children from abuse.

    The report details how poor leadership and “inflexible hierarchies” among such institutions are leading to a culture of fear, causing abuse to be ignored.

    Based on abuse case files and interviews, the Ceop report found that junior members of staff and religious community members felt disempowered and unable to report abuse if it involved senior colleagues or religious leaders. Some said they feared being ostracised or punished themselves.

    The community work of religious groups also gave abusers an effective mask of “virtue” to groom children, said the report. In addition, reports of abuse being ignored led to a “normalization” of abuse in some organisations.

    CCPAS said hierarchies within the Christian religion are a particular concern because these can lead to parents being “more prone to obeying their church leaders without question”.

    Simon Bass, chief executive of CCPAS, said: “It sounds harsh to suggest that the children of strongly-committed parents are more at risk of being abused. However, this is not only true but it stems largely from the fact that they tend to buy in to the culture of their local church wholeheartedly.

    “Unscrupulous church leaders may be able to exploit the respect and, often, unquestioning obedience they receive from their more committed members as cover for their abusing, because they are less likely to believe their leaders could or would ever offend. If any do have concerns, the hierarchical, narrow pyramid structures of such churches prevents them from raising those worries in the most appropriate and effective ways.”

    Among Ceop’s recommendations is an expansion of the legal definition of ‘position of trust’ to include sports coaches and religious leaders. This definition carries a further deterrent to abusers of harsher sentencing in courts.

    All institutions including religious groups should also develop and regularly update safeguarding policies and tighten their recruitment procedure. Potential recruits should be asked in job interviews whether they would raise concerns about abuse, said Ceop.

    Bass added: “Any church that has no proper safeguarding policy, does not operate safer recruitment procedures and operates under a hierarchical structure that is closed to wider scrutiny creates the perfect environment within which, potentially, malign cultures of abuse may thrive.”



  96. Dr Elisabeth Cornwell - We Are Born Scientists


  97. New Bible Book Is Awkward on Purpose; Illustrations Meant To Stir Critical Thinking

    BY MORGAN LEE , Christian Post contributor November 13, 2013

    Despite its title and seemingly playful illustrations, the intended audience of The Awkward Moments Children's Bible is not simply boys and girls. Rather than offering familiar Old and New Testament stories alongside colorful depictions of Jesus, Moses, Noah and David, the book contrasts some of Bible's most controversial, strange, and violent verses alongside cheerfully jarring and dramatic pictures.

    According to author Horus Gilgamesh, one of the goals behind these provocative juxtapositions is to encourage more Christians to critically think about the Bible.

    "Frankly what it comes down to is we want people to think about the Bible for themselves, not just going to church once a month or once a week and nodding their head and cherry-picking and taking things out of context," Gilgamesh told The Christian Post.

    According to Gilgamesh, many Christians know little about their own faith, pointing to a 2010 Pew study that showed that 55 percent of American Christians could not name the writers of the four Gospels as evidence. Instead, the author claimed, many over-rely on churches and sermons to explain the Bible to them, without doing their own spiritual homework,

    "[The illustrator and I] take things out of context from the illustrations' perspective, but have the verses right there and we try to do toe a very narrow line between being respectful but also getting people out of their comfort zone to go look up the Bible verse themselves and look up the context themselves."

    Gilgamesh, whose psuedonym is part-Egyptian God and Uruk royalty, is a self-proclaimed "absolute hope-filled agnostic" who was raised in a Catholic home. After he became a "born-again" Christian in college, he spent years immersed in the "Evangelical world" working domestically and abroad for 10 years in "full-time ministry programs doing Biblical literacy and evangelism…and [pertaining to] AIDS and drug issues."

    It was during his time overseas that Gilgamesh became increasingly disillusioned with his faith.

    "We seemed more interested in putting Bibles in people's hands than we were in feeding them or fixing them," said Gilgamesh. "We were doing a lot of partnerships with humanitarian organizations that were providing food, water, and medicine, which is fantastic, and we often got in the way or screwed up how funding was working because of our emphasis on Bible and evangelism."

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  98. Despite his departure from Christianity, Gilgamesh maintained relationships with individuals from his days in ministry, some of whom, including two pastors and a seminary student, collaborated with the author to start the project.

    Originally a "private online gag" and "tongue-in-cheek irreverent conversation among a group of interfaith friends of pastors, students, atheists, doctorates in theology," Gilgamesh said illustrations, posted on Facebook "struck a nerve" with the atheist community.

    The site does little to stave off controversy. One image illustrates a paraphrase of Mark 5:1-17, where a possessed man asks Jesus to remove the evil spirit controlling him and Jesus subsequently casts the demon out into a nearby herd of pigs who run off a cliff and kill themselves. A confused and angry group of people glare at Jesus while bloody pigs die on the rocks.

    In another image, an illustration of Luke 19:27, which in the New International Version reads, "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me," Jesus, with a crown of thorns on his head, is shown wearing a white turban and robe, while wielding a sword while recording himself talking to a videocamera.

    Not surprisingly, the site has proved successful at also garnering the attention of Christians, many of whom were initially outraged at the Awkward Bible's depiction of the Bible and Christ. But Gilgamesh said that many atheists and Christians stayed on the site and ultimately began having conversations with one another.

    "What was interesting to see over a six month period was how many of those people stayed to listen and have conversations, so it was no longer an argument but a conversation and realize that we're not trying to fight. We're not trying to tell you you're wrong for believing this. We just want people to understand where those beliefs lie," said Gilgamesh.


  99. The High Cost of Tiny Lies

    by Sam Harris http://www.samharris.org/ November 18, 2013

    Last Christmas, my friends Mark and Jessica spent the morning opening presents with their daughter, Rachel, who had just turned four. After a few hours of excitement, feelings of holiday lethargy and boredom descended on the family—until Mark suddenly had a brilliant idea for how they could have a lot more fun.

    Jessica was reading on the couch while Rachel played with her new dolls on the living room carpet.

    “Rachel,” Mark said, “I need to tell you something very important… You can’t keep any of these toys. Mommy and I have decided to give them away to the other kids at your school.”

    A look of confusion came over his daughter’s face. Mark caught Jessica’s eye. She recognized his intentions at once and was now struggling to contain her glee. She reached for their new video camera.

    “You’ve had these toys long enough, don’t you think, Sweetie?”

    “No, Daddy! These are my Christmas presents.”

    “Not anymore. It’s time to say good-bye…”

    Mark began gathering her new toys and putting them in a trash bag.

    “No, Daddy!”

    “They’re only toys, Rachel. Time to grow up!”

    “Not my Polly Pockets! Not my Polly Pockets!”

    The look of terror on his daughter’s face was too funny for words. Mark could barely speak. He heard Jessica struggling to stifle a laugh as she stepped around the couch with the camera so that she could capture all the action from the front. Mark knew that if he made eye contact with his wife, he would be lost.

    “These Polly Pockets belong to another little girl now… She’s going to love them!”

    That did the trick. His daughter couldn’t have produced a louder howl of pain had he smashed her knee with a hammer. Luckily, Jessica caught the moment close-up—her daughter’s hot tears of rage and panic nearly wet the lens.

    Mark and Jessica immediately posted the footage of Rachel’s agony to YouTube, where 24 million people have now seen it. This has won them some small measure of fame, which makes them very happy.

    No doubt, you will be relieved to learn that Mark, Jessica, and Rachel do not exist. In fact, I am confident that no one I know would treat their child this way. But this leaves me at a loss to explain the popularity of a morally identical stunt engineered for three years running by Jimmy Kimmel:


    As you watch the above video and listen to the laughter of Kimmel’s studio audience, do your best to see the world from the perspective of these unhappy children. Admittedly, this can be difficult. Despite my feelings of horror over the whole project, a few of these kids made me laugh as well—some of them are just so adorably resilient in the face of parental injustice. However, I am convinced that anyone who takes pleasure in all this exploited cuteness is morally confused. Yes, we know that these kids will get their candy back in the end. But the kids themselves don’t know it, and the betrayal they feel is heartbreakingly genuine. This is no way to treat children.

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  100. It is true that the tears of a child must often be taken less seriously than those of an adult—because they come so freely. To judge from my daughter’s reaction in the moment, getting vaccinated against tetanus is every bit as bad as getting the disease. All parents correct for this distortion of reality—and should—so that they can raise their kids without worrying at every turn that they are heaping further torments upon the damned. Nevertheless, I am astonished at the percentage of people who find the Kimmel videos morally unproblematic. When I expressed my concern on Twitter, I received the following defenses of Kimmel and these misguided parents:

    • People have to learn how to take a joke.
    • It’s only candy. Kids need to realize that it doesn’t matter.
    • Kids must be prepared for the real world, and pranks like this help prepare them. Now they know to take what authority figures say with a grain of salt.
    • They won’t remember any of this when they are older—so there can’t be any lasting harm.

    These responses are callous and crazy. A four-year-old cannot possibly learn that candy “doesn’t matter”—in fact, many adults can’t seem to learn this. But he can learn that his parents will lie to him for the purpose of making him miserable. He can also learn that they will find his suffering hilarious and that, at any moment, he might be shamed by those closest to him. True, he may not remember learning these lessons explicitly—unless he happens to watch the footage on YouTube as it surpasses a billion views—but he will, nevertheless, be a person who was raised by parents who played recklessly with his trust. It amazes me that people think the stakes in these videos are low.

    My daughter is nearly five, and I can recall lying to her only once. We were looking for nursery rhymes on the Internet and landed on a page that showed a 16th-century woodcut of a person being decapitated. As I was hurriedly scrolling elsewhere, she demanded to know what we had just seen. I said something silly like “That was an old and very impractical form of surgery.” This left her suitably perplexed, and she remains unaware of man’s inhumanity to man to this day. However, I doubt that even this lie was necessary. I just wasn’t thinking very fast on my feet.

    As parents, we must maintain our children’s trust—and the easiest way to lose it is by lying to them. Of course, we should communicate the truth in ways they can handle—and this often demands that we suppress details that would be confusing or needlessly disturbing. An important difference between children and (normal) adults is that children are not fully capable of conceiving of (much less looking out for) their real interests. Consequently, it might be necessary in some situations to pacify or motivate them with a lie. In my experience, however, such circumstances almost never arise.

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  101. Many people imagine that it is necessary to lie to children to make them feel good about themselves. But this makes little moral or intellectual sense. Especially with young children, the purpose of praise is to encourage them to try new things and enjoy themselves in the process. It isn’t a matter of evaluating their performance by reference to some external standard. The truth communicated by saying “That’s amazing” or “I love it” in response to a child’s drawing is never difficult to find or feel. Of course, things change when one is talking to an adult who wants to know how his work compares with the work of others. Here, we do our friends no favors by lying to them.

    Strangely, the most common question I’ve received from readers on the topic of deception has been some version of the following:

    What should we tell our children about Santa? My daughter asked if Santa was real the other day, and I couldn’t bear to disappoint her.

    In fact, I’ve heard from several readers who seemed to anticipate this question, and who wrote to tell me how disturbed they had been when they learned that their parents had lied to them every Christmas. I’ve also heard from readers whose parents told the truth about Santa simply because they didn’t want the inevitable unraveling of the Christmas myth to cast any doubt on the divinity of Jesus Christ. I suppose some ironies are harder to detect than others.

    I don’t remember whether I ever believed in Santa, but I was never tempted to tell my daughter that he was real. Christmas must be marginally more exciting for children who are duped about Santa—but something similar could be said of many phenomena about which no one is tempted to lie. Why not insist that dragons, mermaids, fairies, and Superman actually exist? Why not present the work of Tolkien and Rowling as history?

    The real truth—which everyone knows 364 days of the year—is that fiction can be both meaningful and fun. Children have fantasy lives so rich and combustible that rigging them with lies is like putting a propeller on a rocket. And is the last child in class who still believes in Santa really grateful to have his first lesson in epistemology meted out by his fellow six-year-olds? If you deceive your children about Santa, you may give them a more thrilling experience of Christmas.

    What you probably won’t give them, however, is the sense that you would not and could not lie to them about anything else.

    We live in a culture where the corrosive effect of lying is generally overlooked, and where people remain confused about the difference between truly harmless deceptions—such as the poetic license I took at the beginning of this article—and seemingly tiny lies that damage trust. I’ve written a short book about this. Its purpose is to convey, in less than an hour, one of the most significant ethical lessons I’ve ever learned: If you want to improve yourself and the people around you, you need only stop lying.


  102. Who ya gonna call? Gurubusters!

    by Amrit Dhillon, The Age October 31, 2013

    In the endless fight against superstition and fakery in India, campaigners for rationalism have to use every trick in the book to beat so-called holy men at their own game.

    Standing in front of the schoolchildren at Desu Madra Secondary School in Mohali, in the Indian state of Punjab, Satnam Singh Daun spreads his props out on the table: scarves and money that vanish, cards, powders that burst into flames, some rope, matches, vials, cotton wool. He looks like a magician about to start a show at a child's birthday party.

    But the tricks are not for entertaining the children. Daun is using them to expose the godmen, gurus, astrologers, charlatans, soothsayers, palmists, charm sellers, quacks, and humbugs who are so popular in India.

    The children, seated on the ground in the bright sunshine and humidity that follows a monsoon downpour, listen intently to Daun as he pours scorn on superstition. He performs the same tricks that are used by holy men to exploit the gullibility of Indians and project themselves as possessing supernatural powers - making money disappear or turning 100 rupee notes into 500 rupee notes, producing ash from nowhere, swallowing fire.

    ''It's because they are too stupid to become teachers, doctors or scientists that godmen become astrologers to fool people,'' Daun says.

    ''They want you to use amulets and trust in the stars instead of using your reason. These holy men are holy fools tricking you. Be rational, use your minds,'' says Daun, as a rooster in the school grounds crows on cue as if to say ''hear hear''.

    Daun is one of three men in Mohali known as ''gurubusters''. He is talking to the schoolchildren, accompanied by his two colleagues, to teach them to spurn superstition and be rational instead.

    Daun is short and stocky and works as an Amway agent. His co-gurubuster Harpreet Rora is a slight, fresh-faced young man who works as a journalist. The third is the founder of the Mohali branch of the Indian Rationalist Association, the burly and avuncular Jarnail Singh Kranti, a retired primary school teacher. From a tiny office, using their own funds and their spare time, the endearing threesome, loyally supported by their wives, launch blistering broadsides against India's influential godmen. This is the headquarters of a lonely mission: promoting the supremacy of rationalism.

    Superstition is a multimillion-dollar industry in India. From the poorest to the richest, the predisposition to superstition is embedded in the neural pathway of most Indians. Choosing a spouse, fixing a wedding date, getting a job, trying for a baby boy, curing an alcoholic husband, reviving a failing business, curing an illness, ending a factory strike - all these problems require a visit to a holy man, who is paid a fortune for his services.

    The propensity to believe that some mystic will solve your problems runs across the social spectrum. Former prime ministers have consulted bead-wearing astrologers on the most ''auspicious''' date for a general election. Bollywood stars offer tributes at the shrines of mystics to ensure a box office hit.

    Given their preference for discretion, wealthy Indians prefer to have a guru dedicated to their family; sometimes he lives with them so that he can be available at all times.

    ''I have total faith in my guru. He can cure cancer. I have seen it. I come away after an audience with him feeling light and blessed,'' says New Delhi garment exporter Rocky Verma, who has just asked his guru to suggest a date for his son's engagement.

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  103. Talk to the wives of tycoons and it becomes clear their faith in their family guru is blind. New Delhi art collector and gallery owner Renu Modi is married into the famous Modi business family and she is totally dependent on her guru, Swami Chandra. ''We do not make any major decision without first consulting him,'' she says.

    On Delhi's Prithviraj Road, home to many business moguls, Madhushree Birla, the wife of a scion of the Birla dynasty, sits in a living room full of priceless artefacts and talks of how she relies on Patrick, a Christian faith healer from Goa who she says can cure cancer.

    ''My faith in him stems from the day my brother and sister-in law were involved in a horrific car crash near Nasik. My brother had broken ribs and my sister-in-law suffered serious internal bleeding.

    ''Two minutes after they crashed, they were still lying there stunned but just beginning to realise what had happened when Patrick called them on the phone. He had seen everything that had happened and he knew what injuries they had suffered even though he was far away in Goa,'' she says.

    This is the kind of belief that Daun likes to pour his vitriol on. As the morning sun rises higher in the sky, he ignores the heat and starts getting into his stride, asking the schoolchildren, ''Has any holy man ever invented a medicine or an airplane? Can he stop any of you dying in a road accident? How can he help you do well in exams and get a good job when he himself is nothing but a failure?''

    Standing behind Daun is his wife Neeraj. She hands him something. Daun pops a burning ball of fire into his mouth, eliciting gasps from the schoolchildren. Then he shows them that it is only burning camphor, which cannot hurt his mouth. He dips his hand into burning oil, unscathed, showing them later that he had pre-soaked his hand in oil as insulation.

    At the end of the talk, the children troop out to join their classes, having promised Daun that they will never again succumb to superstition. When they have finished handing out leaflets, the energetic gurubusting triumvirate pack their props, mount their scooters and head off to another assignment at another school to educate children on the importance of being rational.

    The Indian Rationalist Association was founded in 1949, with the good wishes of British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Its first members belonged to the educated elite. It has rarely had more than 100,000 members - mainly teachers, students and professionals - but they have been vigorous in publishing pamphlets and deriding the Indian penchant for superstitious nonsense.

    Over the decades, its branches have tried to inculcate Indians with a scientific temperament through debate, talks, ridicule, humour and challenges. Much of their time is spent performing the tricks that self-styled holy men love to perform to convince Indians of their special powers and to garner billions of rupees from their credulity.

    ''Their press conferences are hilarious because they consume fire, levitate (a trick requiring a blanket and two hockey sticks), walk on coals (the skin doesn't burn if you walk fast enough) and make statues 'weep' (melting a layer of wax covering a small deposit of water),'' says Mumbai journalist Neeraj Gaitonde. ''It's the only way to destroy the blind belief in their special powers.''

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  104. Some charlatans are more creative than others. One used to impress the crowds by ''creating'' fire by pouring ghee (clarified butter) onto ash and then ''staring'' at it until the mixture burst into flames. Rationalists-turned-detectives found that the ghee was glycerine and the ash was potassium permanganate and the two spontaneously combust a couple of minutes after they are combined.

    India's rationalists love to challenge quacks. When the well-known television guru Pandit Surinder Sharma boasted on television in 2008 that he could kill another man using only his mystical powers, Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association (who is currently in hiding in Finland, but more of that later) took up the challenge and invited the guru to kill him on prime-time television.

    The guru agreed and appeared on television performing sundry rituals intended to kill Edamaruku. Millions tuned to the show. The hocus pocus went on for some time. The holy man ruffled the rationalist's hair, pressed his temples and mumbled incantations. Several hours later, Edamaruku was still alive, cheerfully taunting the frustrated killer.

    Edamaruku, a former journalist, became a rationalist activist when he was 15 after seeing a local athlete with blood cancer die because her family refused medical treatment, preferring a faith healer. Now he lives in Finland, having fled India after the Catholic Church in Mumbai filed a complaint against him in April 2012 under the country's blasphemy law. If convicted he would face three years in jail.

    The case concerned a crucifix dripping water at a Mumbai church. Edamaruku discovered the dripping was caused by a leaky cistern that was causing water to seep through the wall onto the crucifix. He reported his results on television and criticised the Catholic Church for being ''anti-science''. When the church filed a case against him, he fled.

    Not so lucky was Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a prominent anti-black magic campaigner in Pune, near Mumbai, who was murdered on August 20. Known for his lifelong campaign against superstition, Dabholkar, 70, was gunned down during his morning walk.

    Dabholkar estimated that several hundred women are killed every year after being branded ''witches'' by so-called godmen. He also pointed out many children also were killed as part of ''human sacrifices'' ordered by godmen to resolve their followers' problems.

    Indians were shocked at the murder; some were equally surprised to discover that Dabholkar had been lobbying the provincial government of Maharashtra to approve the Superstition Eradication and Anti-Black Magic Bill to make superstitious practices illegal.

    Despite receiving several death threats from right-wing Hindu groups, Dabholkar refused police protection. These groups believed he was targeting their religion and not condemning superstition in all religions.

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  105. However, the evidence suggests Hindu charlatans predominate (Hinduism in the largest religion in India), partly because there is no organised structure to the religion nor an established hierarchy, making it easy for anyone to set himself up as a guru offering spiritual advice.

    Invariably, the majority of the controversial godmen who end up in the news for amassing millions, owning fleets of Mercedes and Audis, for being involved in prostitution rackets or are charged with sexual abuse or rape, are Hindu.

    Just last month, a leading godman called Asaram Bapu was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old. Yet, seeing their godman behind bars has done little to dent the faith of his supporters.

    ''These godmen are like Jekyll and Hyde. They do a lot of social and community work initially to become popular before they start gratifying themselves,'' says Dr Indira Sharma, president of the Indian Psychiatric Society.

    ''They help with marriages, school admissions, medical treatment. So when they are charged with an offence, their supporters are not affected because they want to continue getting that help and it's in their interest to protect the godman.''

    The Mohali gurubusters, always cheerful and energetic, have so far not received any threats.

    ''We won't stop, particularly when it comes to educating children,'' says Harpreet Rora. ''We want children to become ambassadors of change. They have to go home and tell their parents to stop their nonsense.''

    The cost of superstition in India is high. All over the country, hanging in shops, homes, workshops and vehicles, are small bunches of green chillies and lemons tied together to ward off the evil eye and bring good luck. Fresh bunches are hung every day.

    ''Do you know that Indians spend 104 million rupees ($2.4 million) every year on buying chillies and lemons?'' says Jarnail Singh Kranti.

    ''At our local hospital, they have an astrologer on hand to 'help' patients if the medical treatment fails. This must stop. We must start relying on science and logic to move into the modern world.''

    It is in the interests of Indian politicians, he adds, to keep Indians mired in superstition so that the poor don't start asking, ''Why are we poor?''

    Before closing the shutters on the office, he points to a large poster hanging on the wall. It offers a reward of 2.3 million rupees ($39,000) to any godman who can perform any one of 23 acts, including standing on burning cinders for half a minute without blistering his feet; reading the thoughts of another person; making an amputated limb grow even one inch through prayer, spiritual powers, using holy ash, or giving blessings; walking on water; getting out of a locked room by divine power; or converting water into petrol.

    As he reads out the list, Kranti chuckles. ''We don't have 2.3 million rupees. But we're not expecting anyone to win so we're pretty safe,'' he says.

    Amrit Dhillon is a Delhi-based writer.


  106. Top Gun Santa

    By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed December 5, 2013

    Two years ago, nearly to the day, I penned an article about the degree to which the Christmas season generally makes me want to tear my skull out from under my face and lob it through the window of the nearest storefront that has the gall to play "Jingle Bells" on an endless loop from a sidewalk speaker. I have my reasons, valid ones all, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

    I am not, however, a curmudgeon. Sure, my "Christmas spirit" takes an annual beating when the commercials start in June, and the same songs are played all the time everywhere (I think the last new piece of Christmas music was written in the year 2), and the overwhelming commercialism of the whole thing makes me wonder why we don't all just live in the mall and get it over with...but then the day itself arrives, and I see family and friends, and get to watch them enjoy my gifts, and get to enjoy my own, and in the end, it's nice.

    While I am not a to-the-knife defender of all things Christmas, I do believe it is important, especially for the children. All of my best Christmas memories are from before I was ten years old. There was a simple magic to it - the tree, the anticipation, the cookies and milk for the guy who would be coming down the chimney - that I still haven't forgotten, and this year, I get to share it with my daughter for the very first time.

    So when I saw this article on Tuesday morning, I very nearly went around the bend:

    As Santa streaks through the sky this Christmas Eve, Rudolph merrily guiding the way, he will be flanked by some new and unusual companions: a jet-fighter escort, bristling with missiles. That is the twist that - to the dismay of at least some child advocates - the US military has chosen to put on this year's version of its traditional animated tracking of the yuletide journey. This year's updated segment, now previewing on the military's website, depicts Santa soaring over snow-capped peaks with military aircraft keeping pace on either side.

    Adding the jets is "part of our effort to give the program more of an operational feel," said Navy Captain Jeff A. Davis, a spokesman for the command that sponsors the event, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD.

    NORAD's headquarters is deep inside a mountain in Colorado, one of the highest-profile vestiges of the Cold War, with a mission of tracking and intercepting such potential nuclear threats as enemy bombers or ballistic missiles headed for US airspace. It has been sponsoring a Track Santa program since the mid-1950s to draw attention to its radar-tracking, jet-scrambling capabilities.

    An intelligence officer asserts that "intel can confirm that Jack Frost and the Abominable Snowman will not be a threat." Ground forces then report that all rooftops have been checked to make sure Santa, whose call sign is "Big Red One," and his reindeer can land safely. Could Santa's navigation system be attacked by a computer virus? Another officer in charge of cyber space chimes in that the "anti-Grinch-viral is up and will continue to monitor threats."

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  107. Threats? To Santa Claus? Whose bright idea was this? Now, for the first time in history, children who see this nonsense will go to bed on Christmas Eve worried that someone might try to kill Santa Claus, an idea that no kid anywhere has ever been required to encompass.

    You really have to see this turd to believe it. The martial drumming, the terrible graphics, the cameras and radar stations surveilling everything, and of course, the war weapons on Santa's six. You'd think the "defense" industry would treat Santa with more dignity. He knows if you are sleeping, he knows if you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so for goodness sake, the guy should be on retainer with the NSA.

    The NORAD tracking thing has been around for almost 60 years, and when I was old enough to know better, I loved watching how it made the younger kids lose their minds when Santa's "position" was reported by the local TV news stations...but this deal with the fighter jets is not just some cute new wrinkle they've added.

    It is product placement and the creation of brand loyalty to the military in the minds of young children, which in the end makes it recruiting. Period, end of file.

    Brazen demonstrations of war weapons are already an enormous part of American culture. They do fly-overs at practically every major sporting event, soldiers carry the flag and sing the anthem, and half the children's cartoons on television involve war fighting in some form or another. It is practically inescapable, and has been getting more intense with each passing year. The biggest Disney movie out right now is about crop dusters racing F-15s.

    In a way, I suppose, NORAD should be commended. After all, they've finally found a use for the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: keeping Santa "safe" from "threats."

    Guys, give it a rest already. You've already got the kids hooked on war in a hundred ways. Leave the fighter jets in the hangar on Christmas Eve. Santa will be just fine on his own. He always has been.


  108. Note from Perry Bulwer: The following article refers to the still developing brain of teenagers in relation to mental health and drug use. However, another important aspect of this science is in relation to religion. There is a correlation between religion and mental illness, so children and teens must be protected from evangelical tricksters. When I was 16 and my own brain was still developing, I was manipulated and exploited by a Christian sect who used my Catholic indoctrination to convince me to drop out of school, leave my family and become a Jesus Freak with them. That was in 1972. As I write this, a similar situation is playing out in Vancouver where a 15 year old girl has run away from home to join the Jehovah's Witnesses, another harmful Christian sect. see: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/chilliwack-family-blames-rcmp-for-failing-to-return-their-daughter-1.2501557

    Both our teen brains were not fully developed enough to protect ourselves against the dishonest, deceptive dogmas we were manipulated with. All religions mainly propagate themselves through the indoctrination of young children so by the time they are teens their minds have been so manipulated it is very hard to break out of that mental conditioning. Religion is dangerous for still developing brains and minds.

    Why Is the Teen Brain So Vulnerable?

    Researchers have discovered a gene linked to healthy teenage brain connectivity.

    by Christopher Bergland in The Athlete's Way, December 19, 2013

    During adolescence, the teen brain goes through dramatic changes which scientists are just beginning to better understand. For parents, teachers, and anyone who cares for a teenager—it is often difficult to help a teen navigate the broad range of challenges that accompany the complex changes occuring in the body, mind, and brain.

    Why is the teen brain so vulnerable and volatile? During early- and mid-adolescence, the brain undergoes considerable neural growth and pruning which create changes of connectivity within and between various brain regions. This transition is riddled with many potential minefields and booby traps for most teenagers.

    By some estimates, human brain development and connectivity is not fully completed until about the age of 25. Some researchers have pointed out, "the rental car companies have it right." The brain isn't fully mature at 16, when a teenager can get a driver’s license; or at 18, when we are allowed to vote; or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car.

    The Teenage Prefrontal Cortex Is Highly Malleable

    Teenage brain structure, connectivity, and behavior are all intertwined. While young adults are advancing to new levels of sophisticated thinking and emotional regulation, their brains are simultaneiously undergoing changes directly needed to support these functions.

    The most widely studied changes in the teenage brain take place in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area behind the forehead and associated with planning, problem-solving, and other 'executive functions.' Healthy brain development and connections require a streamlining combination of brain plasticity, which fortifies certain connections so signals can be transmitted more efficiently, and synaptic pruning, which causes other connections to atrophy.

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  109. During healthy teenage brain development the prefrontal cortex communicates more fully and effectively with other parts of the brain, including ares particularly associated with emotion and impulses. The cluster of functions that center in the prefrontal cortex is sometimes called the "executive suite," including calibration of risk and reward, problem-solving, prioritizing, thinking ahead, self-evaluation, long-term planning, and regulation of emotion.

    Two recent studies have found that dopamine and cortisol levels—along with a gene called DCC—are part of a chain reaction that dramatically influences teenage development and connectivity of the prefrontal cortex.

    The DCC Gene Regulates Prefrontal Cortex Connectivity

    In a breakthrough discovery published on December 17, 2013 researchers at the Douglas Institute Research Centre, which is affiliated with McGill University, have isolated a gene called DCC which may be responsible for healthy brain connectivity during adolescence. The researchers believe that slight variations in DCC during adolescence can produce significant alterations in prefrontal cortex function later in life. The findings were reported in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

    DCC is directly linked to the dopamine network in the prefrontal cortex during adolescence. Working with mice models, the researchers found that dysfunction of this gene during adolescence has behavioral consequences that can carry into adulthood.

    Parents of children who develop mental illness tend to notice the first symptoms of "something not quite right" with their children begin to appear during the teen years. It is known that during this teenaged phase of brain development, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, depression and drug addiction.

    To determine whether the findings of such basic research can translate to human subjects, researchers examined DCC expression in postmortem brains of people who had committed suicide. In a dramatic finding, teenagers who committed suicide showed levels of DCC expression that were 48 percent higher than in control subjects.

    "The prefrontal cortex is associated with judgment, decision making, and mental flexibility—or with the ability to change plans when faced with an obstacle," explained Cecilia Flores, senior author on the study and professor at McGill's Department of Psychiatry. She adds, "Its functioning is important for learning, motivation, and cognitive processes. Given its prolonged development into adulthood, this region is particularly susceptible to being shaped by life experiences in adolescence, such asstress and drugs of abuse. Such alterations in prefrontal cortex development can have long term consequences later on in life."

    The breakthrough discovery of DCC provides more clues towards a betterunderstanding of this volatile phase of teenage brain development. Dr. Flores said, "Certain psychiatric disorders can be related to alterations in the function of the prefrontal cortex and to changes in the activity of the brain chemical dopamine. Prefrontal cortex wiring continues to develop into early adulthood, although the mechanisms were, until now, entirely unknown."

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  110. By identifying the first molecule involved in how the prefrontal dopamine system matures, researchers now have a target for further investigation for developing pharmacological and other types of therapies. "We know that the DCC gene can be altered by experiences during adolescence," said Dr. Flores. "This already gives us hope, because therapy, including social support, is itself a type of experience which might modify the function of the DCC gene during this critical time and perhaps reduce vulnerability to an illness."

    According to the researchers the psychiatric consensus is that early therapy and support in adolescence, as soon as a mental health issue first manifests itself, has dramatically greater potential for a successful outcome—and for a healthy and happy adulthood.

    Teenage Stress Raises Cortisol and Lowers Dopamine Levels

    In another study from January 2013 Johns Hopkins researchers established a link between elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol in adolescence that triggered genetic changes that, in young adulthood, that can result in mental illness in those predisposed to it. The recent discovery of the DCC gene dovetails with these earlier findings.

    The findings were reported in an article titled, “Adolescent Stress-Induced Epigenetic Control of Dopaminergic Neurons via Glucocorticoids," published in the journal Science. These findings could have wide-reaching implications in both the prevention and treatment of schizophrenia, severe depression and other mental illnesses.

    The investigators at Johns Hopkins found that the "mentally ill" mice had elevated levels of cortisol which becomes elevated as part of the body's fight-or-flight response. They also found that these mice had significantly lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in a specific region of the brain involved in higher brain function, such as emotional control and cognition. Changes in dopamine in the brains of patients with schizophrenia, depression and mood disorders have been suggested in clinical studies, but the mechanism for the clinical impact remains elusive.

    "We have discovered a mechanism for how environmental factors, such as stress hormones, can affect the brain's physiology and bring about mental illness," says study leader Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "We've shown in mice that stress in adolescence can affect the expression of a gene that codes for a key neurotransmitter related to mental function and psychiatric illness. While many genes are believed to be involved in the development of mental illness, my gut feeling is environmental factors are critically important to the process."

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  111. Sawa, director of the Johns Hopkins Schizophrenia Center, and his colleagues simulated social isolation associated in mice that would parallel the difficult years of adolescents in human teens.The team found that isolating healthy mice from other mice for three weeks during the equivalent of rodent adolescence had no effect on their behavior. But, when mice known to have a genetic predisposition to characteristics of mental illness were similarly isolated, they exhibited behaviors associated with mental illness, such as hyperactivity.

    They also failed to swim when put in a pool, which is an indirect correlate of human depression. When the isolated mice with genetic risk factors for mental illness were returned to group housing with other mice, they continued to exhibit these abnormal behaviors, a finding that suggests the effects of isolation lasted into the equivalent of adulthood.

    "Genetic risk factors in these experiments were necessary, but not sufficient, to cause behaviors associated with mental illness in mice," Sawa says. "Only the addition of the external stressor—in this case, excess cortisol related to social isolation—was enough to bring about dramatic behavior changes."

    Conclusion: Environmental Factors and Daily Habits Influence Teen Brain Connectivity

    Akira Sawa says the new study points to the importance of finding better preventive care in teenagers who have mental illness in their families, including efforts to protect them from social stressors, such as isolation and neglect. Meanwhile, by understanding the cascade of events that occurs when cortisol levels are elevated, researchers may be able to develop new compounds to target tough-to-treat psychiatric disorders.

    From a positive psychology perspective, there is growing evidence that creating safe, loving and nurturing environments throughout a child’s life has profound effects on healthy brain development that can take teens north-of-zero.

    Also, encouraging daily habits that reduce cortisol and increase dopamine and oxytocin is crucial. This includes lifestyle choices like: fortifying intimate bonds, maintaining extensive social networks, having creative outlets, regular physical activity, mindfulness, not abusing drugs and getting a good night’s sleep. These daily routines will help to optimize healthy brain structure and connectivity for a teenager and througout adulthood.

    to read the links embedded in this article go to:


  112. I am a High School Atheist Going to Christian School That Uses a Curriculum Written by Fundamentalists

    If teaching God’s point of view requires teaching blatant mistruths, maybe it’s time to rethink.

    By Tyler Stoltzfus, AlterNet January 22, 2014

    Hello. My name is Tyler. I’m 17 years old, an atheist, and currently in my senior year of high school at a private Christian institution that uses a curriculum known as Accelerated Christian Education.

    If you’re unfamiliar with ACE, it’s a school curriculum for children K-12 written by fundamentalist Baptists. As you can imagine, these are probably not the most qualified people to write an educational program. On its website, ACE describes its methods this way: "By integrating character-building principles and Scripture memory into the academics, the program helps children grow to see life from God’s point of view."

    If teaching God’s point of view requires you to teach blatant mistruths, maybe it’s time to rethink God’s point of view.

    When conversing about my atheism, I invariably feel like I’m at an AA (Atheists Anonymous) meeting. Not that atheism is a disease to cure. It’s just that when you talk about it to people who believe in God, or God forbid, are religious fundamentalists, behind questions like “Why?” or “For how long?” I get the impression they think there’s a psychological or emotional problem that’s causing my disbelief.

    No doubt, this reaction is to be expected, but I don’t have to like it. Having only a high school education, there are only a handful of topics I consider myself worthy to discuss with an individual of learned status. Most of the time I prefer to listen and cull the available knowledge from someone smarter than myself. The topic of the existence of God has been something different.

    I have a reputation at school for loving to play devil’s advocate. (Pun intended.) I do it because I want to know that my opponent has fully thought through his or her ideas. But in this specific case, I am not disagreeing for the sake of disagreement. I am disagreeing because I really think that my opponent is, for lack of a better word, wrong. Wrong about what is arguably the most formidable question known to man.

    Granted, this position becomes far more difficult to hold when it’s not only my peers with whom I disagree. As far as I can tell, the entire culture around me takes an opposite stance. My parents, my relatives, my friends, my classmates, my teachers, and my principal, if they believe as they profess, are all theists. Christians, more specifically. There may be the odd closeted atheist or agnostic here and there, but I have no knowledge of where any of these like-minded people might be or how to go about finding them. If I left my house and drove for 15 minutes, I can confidently say I would have more than 20 churches at my disposal.

    So it's by no small coincidence that I am enrolled in a Christian school. And I’m an atheist. Sounds like fun, right?

    A part of me enjoys going through ACE and finding its weak points. In the interest of honesty, were I given the the chance to start over and do my education elsewhere, I’m not sure I would change a thing. I think that ACE is at least partially responsible for my questioning nature.

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  113. As an aspiring rebel, I was never one to accept everything I read in my PACEs as absolute truth. When ACE told me that things like rock music was bad, I would shrug it off and listen to the Beatles anyway. It never mattered to me what any ACE executive would’ve thought. Even when they were right in front of me while I was at the ACE International Student Convention, what they thought of me just couldn’t have made less of a difference to my opinion of myself. Passing ACE’s excessive dress code was a necessary evil that I actually remember as a good time. I met some new friends and bonded with some of the ones I already had. Though, if I’m honest, I didn't have fun because of ACE; I had fun in spite of it.

    Maybe it should come as no surprise that I wouldn’t take ACE's science (or, more accurately, pseudoscience) as the truth either. From what I had learned about evolution from ACE, I knew it was a theory that any freshman worth his salt should have seen through. Contained inside those PACE questionnaires are some of the most flimsy arguments in favor of creationism ever devised. Even if there was real evidence for divine creation of the universe, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that at this point, you’re not going to find it in ACE.

    It was only when I started to think about it that I realized there is a whole scientific community backing up this theory of evolution. I realized it would take a massive conspiracy on the part of the scientific community to cover up the idea that maybe evolution wasn’t airtight. This is no problem for ACE. From what I can tell, they think there is a massive conspiracy to disprove God with the theory of evolution. The problem with that should be plainly obvious. To say that evolution disproves God is fundamentally wrong. It says nothing of the sort.

    With an open mind, I began a simple Google search to find the evidence behind the theory of evolution. Imagine my genuine surprise when I found a mountain of it. I had always been led to believe, not just by ACE, but also by organizations like Answers In Genesis, that the fossil record disproved evolution. It doesn’t. Not only did I find fossil evidence, I found DNA and vestigial evidence as well. I found out that there is no denial of science among evolutionary biologists.

    Needless to say, my opinion of Accelerated Christian Education only deteriorated from that point on. All it takes is one broken egg to realize they are all spoiled. Being too young to understand what was going on at the time (as I suspect most ACE students are), I didn’t realize the complete demonization of the word “socialism.” I didn’t understand that ethically, they should not have been feeding me the type of right-wing propaganda that seems so obvious now.

    For a long time, I didn’t understand that if a belief is unreasonable and unjustified, you shouldn’t hold that belief. This is so clear to me now, but then, I just didn’t get it. If I recall correctly, ACE’s reasoning was something along the lines of, “Do not follow your own reasoning, because man’s reasoning is not God’s reasoning.” I’m fine with someone holding that belief, but to write a curriculum based almost entirely around it is wrong. The purpose of an education is to teach people to learn and to reason for themselves. A curriculum that does not do this is useless.

    Those are just some of the problems with the material ACE teaches.

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  114. The real fun begins when you have a look at the method used to teach the material. The children who are subjected to this curriculum sit at an isolated desk by themselves for hours on end, working by themselves, raising a flag when they have questions. It’s basically like a student from any other curriculum doing homework as their regular work—and then for homework, you get more homework.

    With the way this curriculum is structured, asking questions is relatively difficult. Most of the time, ACE instructors have only gone through about four days of training for their teaching position.

    In my humble opinion, questions are the very essence of learning. The easier it is for children to ask their questions, the better. ACE is moving in the wrong direction. From what I’ve heard, the appeal of ACE to most users is that only a few teachers are necessary to use it to the fullest. I can understand this perspective, but my thought is that if you don’t have enough resources to operate a school properly, you shouldn’t be doing it at all. Rather than give children a mediocre education at a Christian school, I think kids should just be sent to a public school. The problem is that this won’t happen because, for most people in the same position as my principal, the primary objective is not education, but indoctrination to Christianity. If you consider ACE from this angle, it’s a bit more successful. As far as I know, I will be the only atheist or even non-Christian ever to graduate from my school.

    I do have a good amount of hope though, as far as the method of teaching is concerned. (Not for ACE, but for my school.) About four years ago, the school board hired a new principal. One of his rather large goals for the school is to switch completely from using the ACE curriculum to a classroom setting. The changes are happening slowly, and from the bottom up, so I don’t see many benefits yet. I have a younger sister, though, whose only experience with PACEs was in kindergarten. I like to think she’ll be taught to question things much more than I was.

    The problems with the new science program are still obvious to many of the people who read some of the material. One section in the book has the heading, “Why I Do Not Believe In Evolution.” The contents are as follows:

    1. Evolution cannot answer my question, “Where did the world come from?”

    2. Evolution is not scientific. The study of science requires

    a. something to observe, analyze, and record,
    b. someone to do the observing, analyzing, and recording,
    c. and the ability to repeat this scientific work.

    In the beginning, the only personality present was God; therefore, He is the only One qualified to answer my question.

    3. Evolutionary ideas are not verified by scientific evidence.

    4. Evolutionary ideas constantly change.

    5. Evolutionary ideas are as varied as the individuals who think them up.

    6. Evolution must be accepted by faith. Faith in evolution is unjustified by works. [Out of everything in this section, this is the one that makes me the angriest. It’s such a fundamental misunderstanding of science.]

    This section, along with one titled “Why I Believe In Creation,” was sent home with my sister and her classmates for approval from their parents. I was extremely interested to hear what this new curriculum had to say about the Genesis account of Creation versus the scientific account. I was utterly disgusted to find out that it was no better than ACE’s version of the story. As you can easily see, it gives Darwin’s bright idea none of the intellectual and scientific respect it deserves.

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  115. Troubled, I showed the paper to my parents. Once I showed them some of the obvious problems with these things that were taught as scientific facts, they gave me their consent to speak to the principal.

    Let me point out to you, right now, that my parents are both young-earth Creationists. What I did was not try to prove to them that humans are descended from apes, or that Noah’s flood never really happened. What I showed them was simply the problems with how this textbook misrepresented evolution to the students.

    It was with the same intention that I walked into the principal’s office the next morning. (My principal has always been someone I respected. Even if I didn’t always agree with his ideas, he was always largely a reasonable man.) I started to show him some of the places where this book went severely wrong. I wasn’t trying to convince him to teach evolution. All I was asking him to do was not to misrepresent it to them.

    Then he asked a question which, for good reason, made me lose some of my respect for him. He asked me, “Tyler, how do you feel about Jesus?” As if that was somehow relevant to the criticisms I had brought forward.

    With as much composure as I could gather, I told him his question was irrelevant to our discussion and that I would answer it later if he was still interested. Later, we had a short conversation that was not altogether unpleasant, though it really wasn’t enough to bring my opinion of him completely back to where it had been.

    This is the brand of anecdote that is all too common at this point in my life. It’s not that the people around me identify with my criticisms and have rational answers for them. Rather, they misunderstand why I believe what I do and they are only concerned with my (in their opinion) inevitable conversion to Christianity. It seems to me they take for granted that when someone has without bias considered Christianity against its alternatives, that individual will then turn to Christianity and never look back. This is a somewhat ironic phenomenon that is not uniquely Christian, but is rather inherent to any religious belief. Of course, you see the problem. If every religion thinks it is the only one that makes perfect sense, it’s going to be extremely difficult to determine which religion is telling the truth, if any of them.

    This is just one of a number of criticisms I have of Christianity, or of any religious faith, for that matter. It declares itself the only true religion, and then tries to demonstrate exactly why this is the case. The other way around would be infinitely more convincing to me. Yet I feel like the people around me will not hear my criticisms, no matter how persuasive I try to be. I think the reason for this is that questioning is seen as sin, at least by most Christians. They think, “If Satan has you doubting, he’s got you right where he wants you,” and subsequently try to eradicate all thought of skepticism.

    Even if I do convert to some religion (God forbid), I hope I never look back at my atheism with shame or remorse. It’s been one of the most educational experiences of my life thus far. Time spent questioning one’s own beliefs is never time wasted.


  116. Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less

    Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative or discover their own passions

    by PETER GRAY, The Independent January 12, 2014

    I’m a research bio-psychologist with a PhD, so I’ve done lots of school. I’m a pretty good problem-solver, in my work and in the rest of my life, but that has little to do with the schooling I’ve had. I studied algebra, trig, calculus and various other maths in school, but I can’t recall ever facing a problem – even in my scientific research – that required those skills. What maths I’ve used was highly specialised and, as with most scientists, I learnt it on the job.

    The real problems I’ve faced in life include physical ones (such as how to operate a newfangled machine at work or unblock the toilet at home), social ones (how to get that perfect woman to be interested in me), moral ones (whether to give a passing grade to a student, for effort, though he failed all the tests), and emotional ones (coping with grief when my first wife died or keeping my head when I fell through the ice while pond skating). Most problems in life cannot be solved with formulae or memorised answers of the type learnt in school. They require the judgement, wisdom and creative ability that come from life experiences. For children, those experiences are embedded in play.

    I’m lucky. I grew up in the United States in the 1950s, at the tail end of what the historian Howard Chudacoff refers to as the “golden age” of children’s free play. The need for child labour had declined greatly, decades earlier, and adults had not yet begun to take away the freedom that children had gained. We went to school, but it wasn’t the big deal it is today. School days were six hours long, but (in primary school) we had half-hour recesses in the morning and afternoon, and an hour at lunch. Teachers may or may not have watched us, from a distance, but if they did, they rarely intervened. We wrestled on the school grounds, climbed trees in the adjacent woods, played with knives and had snowball wars in winter – none of which would be allowed today at any state-run school I know of. Out of school, we had some chores and some of us had part-time jobs such as paper rounds (which gave us a sense of maturity and money of our own); but, for the most part, we were free – free to play for hours each day after school, all day on weekends, and all summer long. Homework was non-existent in primary school and minimal in secondary school. There seemed to be an implicit understanding, then, that children need lots of time and freedom to play.

    I’m writing, here, in response to the news that the independent School Teachers Review Body is due to report back this week to Michael Gove on his plan to make school days longer and holidays shorter. The Education Secretary’s hope is that more hours in school will raise test scores in the UK to the level of those in China, Singapore and other East Asian nations. Paradoxically, Gove’s proposal has appeared just a few months after the Chinese ministry of education issued a report – entitled Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students – calling for less time in school, less homework and less reliance on test scores as a means of evaluating schools.

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  117. Educators in East Asian nations have increasingly been acknowledging the massive failure of their educational systems. According to the scholar and author Yong Zhao, who is an expert on schools in China, a common Chinese term used to refer to the products of their schools is gaofen dineng, which essentially means good at tests but bad at everything else. Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative, discover or pursue their own passions, or develop physical and social skills. Moreover, as revealed by a recent large-scale survey conducted by British and Chinese researchers, Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic stress disorders, which appear to be linked to academic pressures and lack of play.

    The main focus of my own recent research is on the value of play for children’s development. All mammals play when they are young and those that have the most to learn play the most. Carnivores play more than herbivores, because hunting is harder to learn than grazing. Primates play more than other mammals, because their way of life depends more on learning and less on fixed instincts than does that of other mammals. Human children, who have the most to learn, play far more than any other primates when they are allowed to do so. Play is the natural means by which children and other young mammals educate themselves. In hunter-gatherer bands, children are allowed to play and explore in their own chosen ways all day long, every day, because the adults understand that this is how they practise the skills that they must acquire to become effective adults.

    The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.

    My bet is that Gove would agree that now, even more than in the past, creativity is a key to economic success. We no longer need people to follow directions in robot-like ways (we have robots for that), or to perform routine calculations (we have computers for that), or to answer already-answered questions (we have search engines for that). But we do need people who can ask and seek answers to new questions, solve new problems and anticipate obstacles before they arise. These all require the ability to think creatively. The creative mind is a playful mind.

    All young children are creative. In their play and self-directed exploration they create their own mental models of the world around them and also models of imaginary worlds. Adults whom we call geniuses are those who somehow retain and build upon that childlike capacity throughout their lives. Albert Einstein said his schooling almost destroyed his interest in mathematics and physics, but he recovered it when he left school. He referred to his innovative work as “combinatorial play”. He claimed that he developed his concept of relativity by imagining himself chasing a sunbeam and catching up with it, and then thinking about the consequences. We can’t teach creativity, but we can drive it out of people through schooling that centres not on children’s own questions but on questions dictated by an imposed curriculum that operates as if all questions have one right answer and everyone must learn the same things.

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  118. Even more important than creativity is the capacity to get along with other people, to care about them and to co-operate effectively with them. Children everywhere are born with a strong drive to play with other children and such play is the means by which they acquire social skills and practise fairness and morality. Play, by definition, is voluntary, which means that players are always free to quit. If you can’t quit, it’s not play. All players know that, and so they know that to keep the game going, they must keep the other players happy. The power to quit is what makes play the most democratic of all activities. When players disagree about how to play, they must negotiate their differences and arrive at compromises. Each player must recognise the capacities and desires of the others, so as not to hurt or offend them in ways that will lead them to quit. Failure to do so would end the game and leave the offender alone, which is powerful punishment for not attending to the others’ wishes and needs. The most fundamental social skill is the ability to get into other people’s minds, to see the world from their point of view. Without that, you can’t have a happy marriage, or good friends, or co-operative work partners. Children practise that skill continuously in their social play.

    In play, children also learn how to control their impulses and follow rules. All play – even the wildest-looking varieties – has rules. A play-fight, for example, differs from a real fight in that the former has rules and the latter doesn’t. In the play-fight you cannot kick, bite, scratch, or really hurt the other person; and if you are the larger and stronger of the two, you must take special care to protect the other from harm. While the goal of a real fight is to end it by driving the other into submission, the goal of a play-fight is to prolong it by keeping the other happy. In sociodramatic play – the kind of imaginary play exemplified by young children’s games of “house” or pretending to be superheroes – the primary rule is that you must stay in character. If you are the pet dog, you must bark instead of talk and you move around on all fours no matter how uncomfortable that might be. If you are Wonder Woman and you and your playmates believe that Wonder Woman never cries, you must refrain from crying if you fall and hurt yourself. The art of being a human being is the art of controlling impulses and behaving in accordance with social expectations.

    Play is also a means by which children (and other young mammals) learn to control fear. Young mammals of many species play in ways that look dangerous. Goat kids romp along the edges of cliffs; young monkeys chase one another from branch to branch in trees, high enough up that a fall would hurt; and young chimpanzees play a game of dropping from high up and then catching themselves on a lower branch just before they hit the ground. Young humans also play in such ways when free to do so. Why? Apparently, the slight risks involved are outweighed by gains. They are dosing themselves with the maximum levels of fear that they can tolerate without panicking, and they are learning to control their bodies in the face of that fear – an ability that may one day save their lives.

    Children also play in ways that elicit anger. One youngster may accidentally hurt another in the rough and tumble, or negotiations about the rules of a game may fail, or teasing that was at first in fun may go too far. But for the fun to continue, the anger must be controlled. To keep the game going in such situations, the players must react assertively, to stop the offending behaviour, without physically attacking or throwing a tantrum, either of which would bring play to an end. In this way, children learn to control their anger.

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  119. Researchers have raised young monkeys and rats in ways such that they are allowed other types of social interactions but are deprived of play. When these animals are tested, in young adulthood, they are emotional cripples. When placed in a moderately frightening environment, they overreact with fear. They panic and freeze in a corner and never explore the environment and overcome the fear as a normal monkey or rat would. When placed with an unfamiliar peer, they may alternate between panic and inappropriate, ineffective aggression. They are incapable of making friends.

    Some people object, on moral grounds, to experiments in which young animals are deprived of play. What a cruel thing to do. But consider this: over the past 50 to 60 years, we have been continuously decreasing the opportunities for our own children to play. School became more onerous, as breaks were reduced, homework piled up, and pressure for high grades increased. Outside school, adult-directed sports (which are not truly play) began to replace impromptu games (which are play). Children began to take classes out of school, rather than pursue hobbies on their own. “Play dates”, with adults present, replaced unsupervised neighbourhood play, and adults began to feel it was their duty to intervene rather than let children solve their own problems. These changes have been gradual, imperceptible, but over time they have been enormous. They have been caused by a constellation of social factors, including the spread of parents’ fears, the rise of experts who are continuously warning us about dangers, the decline of cohesive neighbourhoods and the rise of a school-centric, or “schoolish”, take on child development – the view that children learn more from teachers and other adult directors than they do from one another.

    This dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play has been accompanied by an equally dramatic increase in childhood mental disorders. It’s not just that we are detecting such disorders where we failed to look before; the increase is real. Clinical assessment questionnaires, which have been administered to normative groups in unchanged form over the years, show that rates of clinically significant depression and anxiety in US schoolchildren are now five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. Other research indicates that empathy has been declining and narcissism increasing, ever since valid measures of these were first developed in the late 1970s. There are even well-validated ways of assessing creative thinking, and research using these tools suggests that such thinking has been decreasing among schoolchildren at all grade levels over the past 30 years. All of these deleterious changes, accompanying the decline of play, are exactly what we would predict from our knowledge of play’s purposes.

    No, our children don’t need more school. They need more play. If we care about our children and future generations, we must reverse the horrid trend that has been occurring over the past half century. We must give childhood back to children. Children must be allowed to follow their inborn drives to play and explore, so that they can grow into intellectually, socially, emotionally and physically strong and resilient adults. The Chinese are finally beginning to realise this, and so should we.

    Dr Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College and author of the acclaimed textbook ‘Psychology’ (Worth Publishers). His recent book, ‘Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life’ (Basic Books, £18.99), is available now.


  120. Boris Johnson says radicalisation should be treated as child abuse

    Mayor of London calls for children at risk to be removed from families and taken into care

    The Guardian, March 3, 2014

    Muslim children at risk of radicalisation at the hands of their parents are victims of child abuse and should be taken into care, Boris Johnson has said.

    The Mayor of London called for children at risk from extremism to be removed from their families to stop them being turned into "potential killers or suicide bombers".

    Johnson said "fatal squeamishness" had developed over intervening in the behaviour of certain groups in society but insisted there was a need to be "stronger and clearer in asserting our understanding of British values".

    Some children are being "taught crazy stuff" in the vein of the vile beliefs of soldier Lee Rigby's killers Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, he added.

    In his weekly column for the Daily Telegraph he said: "We know that the problem of radicalisation is not getting conspicuously worse – but nor is it going away. There are a few thousand people in London – the "low thousands", they say – who are of interest to the security services; and a huge amount of work goes into monitoring those people, and into making sure that their ranks are not swelled by new victims of radicalisation.

    "What has been less widely understood is that some young people are now being radicalised at home, by their parents or by their step-parents. It is estimated that there could be hundreds of children – especially those who come within the orbit of the banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun – who are being taught crazy stuff: the kind of mad yearning for murder and death that we heard from Lee Rigby's killers.

    "At present, there is a reluctance by the social services to intervene, even when they and the police have clear evidence of what is going on, because it is not clear that the 'safeguarding law' would support such action.

    "A child may be taken into care if he or she is being exposed to pornography, or is being abused – but not if the child is being habituated to this utterly bleak and nihilistic view of the world that could lead them to become murderers

    "I have been told of at least one case where the younger siblings of a convicted terrorist are well on the road to radicalisation – and it is simply not clear that the law would support intervention.

    "This is absurd. The law should obviously treat radicalisation as a form of child abuse. It is the strong view of many of those involved in counter-terrorism that there should be a clearer legal position, so that those children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public.

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  121. "That must surely be right. We need to be less phobic of intrusion into the ways of minority groups and less nervous of passing judgment on other cultures. We can have a great, glorious, polychromatic society, but we must be firm to the point of ruthlessness in opposing behaviour that undermines our values.

    "Paedophilia, FGM, Islamic radicalisation – to some extent, at some stage, we have tiptoed round them all for fear of offending this or that minority. It is children who have suffered."

    Johnson branded Islamic extremism as an "awful virus" but suggested political correctness was hampering attempts to stop it spreading.

    He added: "It must have been dreadful for the family of Drummer Lee Rigby to listen to the ravings of his killers as they were finally hauled away to the cells and, one hopes, to a lifetime of incarceration.

    "If those relatives have one consolation, it is that they were just about the last words those men will ever pronounce in public; the last time we will have to hear them pervert the religion of Islam – and the most important question now is how we prevent other young men, and women, from succumbing to that awful virus: the contagion of radical Islamic extremism.

    "Every day in London and other big cities, there are thousands of counter-terrorism officers doing a fantastic job of keeping us safe. They have to work out who are the most vulnerable young people, who are the most susceptible - and they have to stop the infection of radicalisation before it is too late.

    "That will sometimes mean taking a view about what is happening to them in their homes and families – and I worry that their work is being hampered by what I am obliged to call political correctness."


  122. Little Girl Taken Out Of Christian School After Told She's Too Much Like A Boy

    By James Gherardi ABC13, Virginia March 24, 2014

    Timberlake, VA - Sports, sneakers, and short hair; it's what makes eight year old Sunnie Kahle unique. It's also what had her removed from Timberlake Christian School. Her grandparents pulled the plug on her time there after they said she was no longer welcome.

    The family received a letter telling them that if their eight year old granddaughter didn't follow the school's "biblical standards," that she'd be refused enrollment next year. She's out and in public school now.

    Sunnie Kahle has short hair and a huge heart, and as far as her grandparents are concerned, she is a completely normal little girl.

    "She cries every morning to get on the bus, she cries when she comes home because she wants to go back to Timberlake Christian with her friends," said Doris Thompson.

    Doris and Carroll Thompson are Sunnie's grandparents. They adopted and raised the little girl and took her out of Timberlake Christian School when they received a letter from the school's K-8 Principal.

    "You're probably aware that Timberlake Christian School is a religious, Bible believing institution providing education in a distinctly Christian environment," read Doris from a part of the letter.

    The letter goes on to say that students have been confused about whether Sunnie is a boy or girl and specifies that administrators can refuse enrollment for condoning sexual immorality, practicing a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.

    The letter goes on to reference specific Bible verses that affirm these beliefs.

    The letter reads in part, "We believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education."

    "How do you label a child, eight years old, or discriminate against an eight year old child? It just don't happen" said Carroll Thompson.

    "Sunnie says, 'I'm a girl, I know I'm a girl' and she said then you know, you're acting like and looking, and wanting to look and act like a boy" said Doris.

    An administrator from Timberlake Christian, said the problem with Sunnie goes "far beyond her hair length" and that the little girl is a good student, but that "things disturbed the classroom environment."

    "How do you tell a child when she wants to wear pants a shirt, and go out and play in the mud and so forth, how do you tell her, no you can't, you've got to wear a pink bow in your hair, and you've got to let your hair grow out long, how do you do that? I can't do that" said Doris.

    School administrators said they have not accused Sunnie of being anything or anyone and simply asked that her family follow the guidelines they set forth for all students. The Thompsons say they have no desire to re-enroll Sunnie at Timberlake Christian.


  123. Why I Raise My Children Without God

    By TXBlue08, CNN iReport, January 14, 2013

    CNN PRODUCER NOTE TXBlue08, a mother of two teenagers in Texas, blogs about raising her children without religion. She said she shared this essay on CNN iReport because 'I just felt there is not a voice out there for women/moms like me. I think people misunderstand or are fearful of people who don’t believe in God.' Read more about the reaction to her essay here.

    Update: CNN hasn't flagged this iReport as inappropriate, but some community members have. This is a divisive topic, however it does not violate our Community Guidelines, so we ask people to please stop flagging it. We will continue to review the story as often as possible.
    - dsashin, CNN iReport producer

    When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

    For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.

    One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale—not unlike the one we tell children about Santa—to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.

    And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children. I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my community. As a blogger, though, I’ve found that there are many other parents out there like me. We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.

    Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children without God.

    God is a bad parent and role model.
    If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.

    God is not logical.
    How many times have you heard, “Why did God allow this to happen?” And this: “It’s not for us to understand.” Translate: We don’t understand, so we will not think about it or deal with the issue. Take for example the senseless tragedy in Newtown. Rather than address the problem of guns in America, we defer responsibility to God. He had a reason. He wanted more angels. Only he knows why. We write poems saying that we told God to leave our schools. Now he’s making us pay the price. If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn’t this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?

    The question we should be asking is this: “Why did we allow this to happen?” How can we fix this? No imaginary person is going to give us the answers or tell us why. Only we have the ability to be logical and to problem solve, and we should not abdicate these responsibilities to “God” just because a topic is tough or uncomfortable to address.

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  124. God is not fair.
    If God is fair, then why does he answer the silly prayers of some while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered? I have known people who pray that they can find money to buy new furniture. (Answered.) I have known people who pray to God to help them win a soccer match. (Answered.) Why are the prayers of parents with dying children not answered?

    If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.

    God does not protect the innocent.
    He does not keep our children safe. As a society, we stand up and speak for those who cannot. We protect our little ones as much as possible. When a child is kidnapped, we work together to find the child. We do not tolerate abuse and neglect. Why can’t God, with all his powers of omnipotence, protect the innocent?

    God is not present.
    He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.

    God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good
    A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won’t go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.

    God Teaches Narcissism
    “God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. “No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special.” The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God’s plan, right?

    When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.

    I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

    I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.


  125. Court grants father right to vaccinate his children

    Louise Hall, Court Reporter, The Age, Australia April 6, 2014

    A western Sydney father has won the right to vaccinate his children after a drawn-out legal battle with their mother, who is strongly opposed to immunisation.

    The Family Court rejected the mother's claims that the children, who will turn 14 and 12 this year, were at an increased risk of experiencing ''vaccine damage'' due in part to various allergies she believes they suffer from.

    Sitting at Parramatta, Justice Garry Foster said the 42-year-old woman, given the pseudonym MsDuke-Randall, had submitted hundreds of documents about the risks of vaccination, such as the link to autism.

    Justice Foster said much of it ''is comments, submissions, irrelevancies'' and Ms Duke-Randall had become ''narrowly focused on it, perhaps to the point where the best interests of her children have been subsumed''.

    The father, Mr Randall, 52, said during their marriage he agreed with Ms Duke-Randall's anti-vaccination view ''for the sake of peace in the household'' but since their divorce in August 2011, he had come to realise his son and daughter were missing out on extra-curricular activities because they were not immunised.

    Some of his relatives were unwilling to have their children socialise with his children and he was worried they would be excluded from school during an outbreak of an infectious disease.

    But he said he ''was simply unable to negotiate with [the mother] on the issue''.

    While the parents fought over other issues including custody and property, the court restrained both parents from vaccinating the boy and his younger sister until a three-day hearing into the immunisation issue could be held in January this year.

    But last month Justice Foster discharged the order, finding the mother had been deliberately delaying proceedings and ignoring directions, which led to the ''strong inference that she has done so to suit her own end that the issue as to vaccination be delayed for as long as possible''.

    The mother claimed any delay in presenting her case was caused by the court not permitting her to use medical evidence regarding her children's susceptibility to being adversely affected by vaccines.

    Justice Foster accepted evidence from a senior consultant in immunology, given the pseudonym Professor K, that both children are healthy and do not have any allergies or any other contraindications to vaccination.

    Both children had been kept on a low-salicylate and low-amine diet but once the father gained primary custody, they had begun to eat a normal diet, Professor K said.

    She recommended the children be bought up to date with the routine childhood immunisations.


  126. Father wins right to have son exempted from all religious programs at Ontario Catholic high school

    Andrew Philips, Special to National Post | April 8, 2014

    TORONTO — A Toronto-area father has won the right to have his son exempted from all religious programs at a local Roman Catholic high school, a ruling that could set a precedent across Ontario.

    A three-member panel of the Ontario divisional court ruled Oliver Erazo’s son Jonathan should not have to attend any religious liturgies or retreats at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton under provisions in the provincial Education Act.

    “The court’s decision means my family will no longer have to [live] with this prolonged anguish we have been put through any longer,” said Mr. Erazo.

    “However, it will only be fulfilling when every parent’s and every student’s rights protected in law are respected.”

    He has already secured an exemption for Jonathan to opt out of religious studies after a lengthy battle with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

    In a hearing in October, the judges heard arguments relating to specific definitions as outlined under section 42 (13) of the Education Act and how they apply to religious programs and education.

    The Education Act allows students of all faiths to attend Catholic schools, provided they also take religion courses. But parents can write to the relevant school board to ask their child be exempted from “any program or course of study in religious education.”

    In its 16-page ruling released last week, the panel said liturgies and retreats fall under the “programs” definition of the act and should also be exempt.

    Bruce Campbell, a Dufferin-Peel school board spokesman, said it is considering its options.

    “We have 15 days from the date of release of the court’s decision to appeal and would reserve comment at this time,” he said.

    Mr. Erazo and his wife initially chose Notre Dame because it’s the closest to their home and garners favourable ratings on a school-ranking website.

    Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Mr. Erazo’s lawyer, said the panel decided the father was well within his rights to seek the full exemption.

    “I hope this resolves the issue for parents across the province,” he said.

    While the board had initially said Jonathan, who is in grade 11, could stay home from school during morning liturgies, Mr. Erazo wanted his son to be able to work in the school library or office with supervision during such events.

    “I believe this sets a very important precedent that will expose the misinformation Catholic school boards have given to parents and students,” he said.

    “I also hope that the Ministry of Education takes notice of this and demands the Catholic school boards adhere to the Education Act.”

    He expects the decision will help other families seeking similar redress.

    “Even now, I have heard of students fighting to get the exemption to religious studies in my son’s school. I can only imagine how many families had their rights denied and are now having their rights denied.”

    Kyle Naylor, a Midland, Ont., resident, has become a resource for Ontario parents seeking religious exemptions for their children attending Catholic schools.

    “The court ruling only confirms the intention of the architects of the act when it included open-access legislation with the extension of funding to Catholic high schools in 1985,” said Mr. Naylor, who also operates a website for parents called http://www.myexemption.com.

    “What is exciting about this ruling is it brings to light this little known right. Unlike my situation and many others, parents don’t have to endure months of battling to obtain their exemption, they can simply opt out of religion classes and participation in things such as mass and liturgies with a letter to the board and reference to this court case.”


  127. Children exposed to religion have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction: researchers

    By Scott Kaufman, The Raw Story July 18, 2014

    A study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science determined that children who are not exposed to religious stories are better able to tell that characters in “fantastical stories” are fictional — whereas children raised in a religious environment even “approach unfamiliar, fantastical stories flexibly.”

    [see abstract of the study at the following link] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cogs.12138/abstract

    In “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds,” Kathleen Corriveau, Eva Chen, and Paul Harris demonstrate that children typically have a “sensitivity to the implausible or magical elements in a narrative,” and can determine whether the characters in the narrative are real or fictional by references to fantastical elements within the narrative, such as “invisible sails” or “a sword that protects you from danger every time.”

    However, children raised in households in which religious narratives are frequently encountered do not treat those narratives with the same skepticism. The authors believed that these children would “think of them as akin to fairy tales,” judging “the events described in them as implausible or magical and conclude that the protagonists in such narratives are only pretend.”

    And yet, “this prediction is likely to be wrong,” because “with appropriate testimony from adults” in religious households, children “will conceive of the protagonist in such narratives as a real person — even if the narrative includes impossible events.”

    The researchers took 66 children between the ages of five and six and asked them questions about stories — some of which were drawn from fairy tales, others from the Old Testament — in order to determine whether the children believed the characters in them were real or fictional.

    “Children with exposure to religion — via church attendance, parochial schooling, or both — judged [characters in religious stories] to be real,” the authors wrote. “By contrast, children with no such exposure judged them to be pretend,” just as they had the characters in fairy tales. But children with exposure to religion judged many characters in fantastical, but not explicitly religious stories, to also be real — the equivalent of being incapable of differentiating between Mark Twain’s character Tom Sawyer and an account of George Washington’s life.

    This conclusion contradicts previous studies in which children were said to be “born believers,” i.e. that they possessed “a natural credulity toward extraordinary beings with superhuman powers. Indeed, secular children responded to religious stories in much the same way as they responded to fantastical stories — they judged the protagonist to be pretend.”

    The researchers also determined that “religious teaching, especially exposure to miracle stories, leads children to a more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is, a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary causal relations.”


  128. I Was Traumatized by Christian Dogma: I Won't Do the Same to My Child

    A new father reexamines the destructive Christian dogmas he experienced as a child.

    By Bill Moeller, AlterNet July 31, 2014

    Before I became a father, at the age of 36, I never suspected that adopting a young child, Nathan, would so powerfully dismantle my fortress-like evangelical beliefs. Nor did I anticipate the storm of turmoil, anger, and grief I would soon experience, as I relived my own childhood and confronted the dogmas I grew up with.

    Nathan’s exuberant ADHD personality challenged and enchanted me and my wife from the day we first saw him. Nathan lived most of the first five years of his life in a dimly lit orphanage in western Ukraine. I will never forget the frigid November morning we first visited him at the orphanage. Although Nathan had never seen us or had any contact with us before, he dashed toward us with raised hands, exclaiming “mama, tata!” and kissed us on our cheeks. He instantly melted my heart.

    Nathan was an unstoppable dynamo. For two weeks leading up to a court hearing on our petition to adopt, we visited Nathan for two hours a day. He was not still for a moment. Two weeks after the court hearing, we were allowed to pick Nathan up from the orphanage. For the next several days, Nathan hardly slept. Exposed for the first time in his life to a world outside the orphanage, Nathan was hyper-stimulated. After an epic transatlantic journey back to the States, with Nathan kicking the airplane seat in front of him and me unsuccessfully trying to restrain him the entire 10-hour flight, Nathan was home.

    From day one, Nathan’s innocence, mischievousness, inquisitiveness, explosiveness, and affection fascinated and challenged me. He was so different from me, so much livelier, so able to live in the moment, and so unstunted in his capacity to enjoy life. Yes, Nathan desperately needed to develop communication, social and behavioral skills. But I didn’t want to destroy his spark. On the contrary, I hoped to learn from Nathan how to enjoy life and live in the moment.

    As I contemplated my deep parental bond with Nathan and how I ought to raise him, I began reexamining the Christian dogmas with which I was reared. Childhood memories of the dreadful dogmas I had been taught at Nathan’s age boiled up to the surface. I recoiled with bewilderment, grief and anger.

    The dogmas of my childhood

    One of the first memories to surface was of an eerie summer day in our little house in Tacoma, Washington. I was just five years old, and my Mom decided it was time to teach me about hell.

    I was in my bedroom. A melancholy afternoon sunlight diffused through the white sheet curtains of the west-facing window, illuminating the dusty air. There, Mom told me that God hates sin—that is, disobedience—and to punish sin, He prepared a place of eternal fire and torment called Hell. When sinful people died, they went to Hell. It was God’s punishment for sin. Two thousand years ago, God sent his son Jesus to die on the cross. If I believed this, and “accepted Jesus into my heart,” I could escape the torments of hell and enjoy the promise of heaven, where I would live with God forever.

    Mom told me that my older brother had asked Jesus into his heart, so He was bound for heaven. Then Mom left me in my bedroom to ponder her words. Mom wanted my conversion to be genuine, thoughtful and real.

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  129. So there I was, alone in my bedroom. My five-year-old mind pondered with terror and horror a God who hated disobedience so much that He would condemn people to a place of eternal fire and torment. I felt abandoned and alienated. I stared toward the window. The sunlight that once warmed me felt alien, hostile and cold. The sun’s rays symbolized the distant foreboding flickers of a hateful eternal fire waiting to torment the souls of the lost.

    I stood there in that room all alone, condemned, diminished and stripped of all human dignity. God hated me for who I was. I didn’t stay in my bedroom long. I went out to the kitchen and asked Mom to help me pray Jesus into my heart. And so I became a Christian. But the alienation I felt on that summer afternoon stayed with me. It became the fearful cornerstone of my understanding of God.

    Next, painful memories surfaced of the countless stories from Good News Club lessons I attended every week of every summer between the ages of 7 and 10. There are thousands of GNCs operating in public schools, churches and backyards. The sponsoring organization, Child Evangelism Fellowship, is the largest and most influential evangelical ministry directed toward young children, with over 700 staff members and 40,000 volunteers.

    A family member gave us several old GNC lesson books, the same ones I had read as a child, for the purpose of teaching Nathan. A year after adopting Nathan, I began to review the lesson books. I also checked out a half a dozen other GNC lesson books from an evangelical library. The lessons present all of the familiar (and many not so familiar) Bible stories, about Adam and Eve, the Serpent and the Fall, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, Lot and Sodom, Pharaoh and the Ten Plagues, and many others. But GNC presents these stories with terrifying, unmitigated detail. These are not whitewashed versions suitable for young children.

    Lessons about God’s commands to Abraham to sacrifice his son (Gen. 9) and to Saul to slaughter all of the Amalekites (I Sam. 15) exemplify God’s demand for total obedience. Lessons about Lot’s wife being transformed into a pillar of salt for stealing a last glance at Sodom (Gen. 19:26), of Aaron’s sons being consumed with fire for offering strange incense to God (Lev. 10:1-3), of Uzzah being struck dead for reaching out his hand to stabilize the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6), and of 42 children being mauled for mocking Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 3:23-25) exemplify God’s terrible punishment for even trivial sins. GNC even tarnishes the more endearing stories, like the story of David’s adoption of Mephibosheth, a paralytic, with commentary on sin and punishment.

    Almost every GNC lesson intones that sin—“anything you think, say, or do that breaks God’s laws”—must be punished. The worst sins, of course, are thought crimes: doubt and unbelief. The punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God. The lessons repeatedly admonish children that they deserve death. One typical GNC lesson text states: “God hates the sinful things you do, like pouting and complaining, or hitting someone. He says you deserve his punishment, which is separation from Him forever in a terrible place called Hell. Have you been set free from the death you deserve for your sin?”

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  130. Another recurring GNC lesson theme is about the basic depravity of human nature. One GNC lesson text informs children that: “your heart, the real you, is sinful from the time you are born.” Says another: “[t]here was nothing in me, nor in you, that should cause the Lord Jesus to want to love us. All that is in us is sin and selfishness and pride and hatefulness.” And another: “Even the good things you do aren’t good enough. The Bible says those things are like filthy, dirty rags.”

    GNC’s repeated themes about sinfulness and unworthiness are always “balanced” by reminders of God’s “love,” manifested by the opportunity that each child has, through submissive “belief” in the dogmas with which they are being indoctrinated, to be saved. Children are admonished that even though they are undeserving of love, Christ died and suffered on the cross for them, and so they owe God their worship and whole-hearted surrender. One GNC lesson text intones: “Do you love and honor Him for what He did for you? Because of the sin in our lives we are selfish, unkind, disobedient, always doing the things that are wrong instead of right. But the Lord Jesus gave his precious blood on the cross. Dying there, He was taking the punishment for our sins. We owe all that we are to Him.”

    GNC’s dark emphases on sin, depravity and obedience are thoroughly Biblical and embraced by the evangelical mainstream. The concepts that all people are conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5), that “nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom. 7:18), that the natural self is so flawed as to have “become worthless” (Rom. 2:12), and “by nature [an] object[] of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) are pillars of evangelical doctrine.

    Assessing the damage

    As I read through the GNC lesson books, my childhood memories of those stories, and the terror and shame they inspired, came flooding back. For the first time, I recognized how evangelism artfully harnesses the phenomenon known as the Stockholm Syndrome. Named after a famous incident in 1973 in which robbery victims held hostage for six days grew emotionally attached to their captors, and defended them after they were freed, the Stockholm Syndrome frequently manifests when a captor strips the victim of all forms of independence, self-worth and dignity, alternately terrorizing and offering kindness to the victim. The victim embraces the kindness and views the captor as giving life simply by not taking it.

    Evangelical Christianity employs the Stockholm Syndrome to full effect. God gains obedience and worship by reminding humans of their utter unworthiness, dangling them over hell, and then “saving” them, in exchange for submission, from the very torments he threatens.

    I pondered these dogmas with the newly acquired insight and sensitivity of a father. As a vulnerable child, these dogmas had repeatedly attacked, and ultimately destroyed, my self-image and sense of intrinsic value. As early as my pre-teen years, I struggled with low self-image, depression and suicidal ideation. Now it was unmistakably clear: my religious upbringing was the cause.

    For the first time in my life, I understood how abusive, degrading and destructive those dogmas had been. All of my indoctrination, prayers and Bible study had not made life any fuller or more enjoyable, or my character any more empathetic and soft-hearted. Rather, the shame with which I was indoctrinated robbed me of the ability to enjoy life at an early age. It had made me super-sensitive to perceiving “sin” in myself and others, hardened me to much of humanity, and made me quick to misjudge outsiders. The fear of hell and the devaluation of earthly and present things made it impossible for me to live in the moment.

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  131. Yet I, like so many victims of abuse, became an ardent defender of my abusers. I had sublimated my suppressed rage into Christian activism, intent on doing battle with the “world” and fiercely defending the faith. As an attorney, I even waged legal battles on behalf of Christianity, including— ironically—defending the “equal access” rights of Good News Clubs to public elementary schools.

    Using the hammers and cudgels of fear and shame, the pedagogues of my youth had shaped me into a “believer,” at war with myself and at war with the world.

    Now, as a father, I cringed at the thought of someone inflicting the same terror and sense of shame on Nathan. Imagine the soul-murdering effect that telling Nathan, whom his own birth parents had abandoned at birth, that his natural self was “worthless” (Rom. 2:12), and that nothing good lived in him (Rom. 7:18).

    I also recoiled at the “holiness” of “God the Father.” God, we have all been told, cannot tolerate sin in his presence. That’s why he created hell. But I could not imagine any good father hating his child for acts of disobedience. I could not fathom how “justice” would move a father to torture his child in hell.

    Reflecting on my love for Nathan, I imagined myself a five-year-old again, like him. I became angry and depressed that my parents had inflicted such painful dogmas on my young psyche. Why had my parents, neither of whom were raised in fundamentalist households, embraced and imposed these dogmas on their own flesh and blood? Why didn’t their own parental instincts anticipate, and recoil in horror at the damage those dogmas would cause? I felt betrayed and wounded.

    Recovery and Healing

    It took me more than 30 years to begin consciously processing the damage I suffered as a child. Nathan has not yet begun that process. Although Nathan knows he is adopted, he does not yet know the tragic details of his first years of life. It is incumbent on me, as a father, to continually love and affirm him so that he develops a secure enough sense of identity and value to weather the facts he will eventually come to know.

    Sometimes I gather Nathan into my arms, and look into his eyes. I tell him: You are precious; you are beautiful; we longed for you before we ever saw you; before we ever knew who you were, and in the month you were born, I was thinking of you and composing a melody for you; you enrich our lives, and the lives of so many others, with your presence; we will always love and cherish you. Nathan just soaks up the love, and then gives it back. As I tell Nathan these things, I tell them to my inner child too. As I gather Nathan into my arms, pressing his cheek against mine, I embrace my inner child too. As I comfort him, I comfort myself.

    Recovery takes time, and lots of love and understanding. Expressing the love of a father is powerfully self-healing. By adopting Nathan out of an environment of neglect and into an intensely nurturing environment, my wife and I have transformed Nathan’s life. In showering me with his innocence, enthusiasm and love, Nathan has brought me back into touch with my inner child, and transformed my life.

    Bill Moeller (a pen name) is an attorney and former evangelical Christian. His story was gathered for an anthology in process by Dr. Marlene Winell, human development consultant and founder of Journey Free, and author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. The upcoming anthology, Happy Heretics: Journeys of Recovery from Harmful Religion will feature stories from “reclaimers” discussing experiences they found powerful in their journeys out of fundamentalism.


  132. How Religion Affects Childrens Judgment of What Is Real and What Is Pretend

    by Kathleen Corriveau, Paul L. Harris, and Eva E. Chen

    Huffington Post August 11, 2014

    How does exposure to religion influence young children's learning? We asked this question in a study published this month in the journal Cognitive Science.

    [see abstract of the study at the following link] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cogs.12138/abstract

    In the paper, my colleagues Eva Chen, Paul Harris and I report the results of two studies we conducted at Boston University's Social Learning Laboratory that explored how exposure to religion -- via attending church, school, or both -- would influence children's reality judgments of novel characters.

    We were interested in this question as part of a larger body of research examining how children need to look beyond their first-hand experience in order to learn about the world. In an earlier study, we found that by the age of 5 or 6 children seem to separate stories into two types -- factual (or true) stories and make-believe (or fictional) stories. When we gave children a story they had not heard before, we found that they listened for magical events -- the type of impossible event common in fairy tales. If the story included, for example, seeds that made you invisible or a sword that protected you in any battle, children decided that the central character was not a real person.

    On the other hand, if the story included only plausible events, children were much more likely to say that the main character was a real person. When asked why they had decided the main character was real or pretend, children justified their answer by appealing to the story events -- the impossible events in pretend stories, as well as the realistic events in true stories.

    But this type of strategy only goes so far. Indeed, it suggests that children would struggle to appropriately categorize characters from fictional stories that did not include impossible events (Tom Sawyer, for example). Similarly, children might struggle to categorize figures in religious narratives, which often include miracles.

    In our first study, we found that children's judgments about characters in biblical narratives were strongly affected by their upbringing. Children who had had some form of religious education - via church, parochial school or both -- generally judged the central character to be a real person. Children who did not have religious education -- who did not go to church and went to a secular school -- largely judged the central character to be fictional.

    In a follow-up study, we obtained a similar pattern for what we might call quasi-biblical stories -- stories that included miraculous events but not ones that children would read about in the Bible. For example, we told children a story about the parting of the mountains. Religious children were more likely than non-religious children to think that the main character was real.

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  133. Some media reports about our research have said, on the basis of these results, that religious children cannot tell fact from fiction. We doubt such a conclusion is warranted. Our interpretation is different. Religious children are encouraged to think that miracles are possible -- and so for them, a story that includes a miracle is not obviously fictional. Non-religious children, by contrast, receive less encouragement to think that miracles are possible -- and so for them a story that includes a miracle is likely to be made up.

    In our view, upbringing probably has an impact on where children draw the line between fact and fiction. But it does not affect children's basic ability to recognize the difference between make-believe characters and real people. For example, virtually all of the children that we talked to, regardless of their upbringing, thought of Snow White as a fictional character and George Washington as a real person.

    What we do think these findings suggest is that a child's home life -- including religious exposure, as well as exposure to scientific phenomenon -- influences how they might perceive school-based subjects where we might not think religion would play a role. In some instances, the ability to suspend disbelief might be an asset to learning. For example, when learning counterintuitive phenomena -- such as the entirety of modern physics -- the ability to imagine improbable events might aid in acquiring knowledge.

    This research was conducted in the United States where children who receive a religious education will typically learn about Christianity. An exciting question for future research is whether a similar pattern will emerge among children raised in a different religious tradition. For example, will children growing up in a Buddhist or Hindu community draw the same conclusions as children growing up in a Christian community? More generally, it will be important to identify what it is about a novel story that prompts children to connect it to their religious education. For example, does that connection depend on the particular type of miraculous event in the story, or on how the protagonist is said to bring about the miracle?

    Finally, it is important to emphasize that our research shows that all children do recognize that there are some stories that are made-up. For example, they understand that fairy tales involve a fictional protagonist who does something magical -- something that does not happen in ordinary reality. In other words, children, no matter what type of education they receive, appear to have an intuitive grasp of the difference between magic and miracles.


  134. Texas court rules against homeschoolers who expected rapture and stopped teaching kids

    By David Edwards The Raw Story August 11, 2014

    A Texas court ruled this month that parents who allegedly stopped homeschooling their kids because they believed Jesus Christ was returning to Earth were not exempt from state education regulations.

    According to a ruling last week by the Texas Eighth District Court of Appeals, Michael McIntyre and Laura McIntyre removed their nine children from a private school in 2004 to homeschool them.

    Michael McIntyre’s twin brother, Tracy, testified that the parents used empty space in a motorcycle dealership that he co-owned as a classroom. But Tracy said that he never saw the children reading books, using computers or doing arithmetic. Instead, the children were seen playing instruments and singing.

    “Tracy overhead one of the McIntyre children tell a cousin that they did not need to do schoolwork because they were going to be raptured,” the court document noted.

    After Tracy confronted the parents about the curriculum, the school was later moved to a rental house.

    In 2006, El Paso Independent School District met with the parents about an anonymous complaint that the children were not being educated. District attendance officer Mark Mendoza later confirmed that one of the daughters, Tori, had run away from home to “attend school,” and was enrolled at Coronado High School.

    But when the district attempted to contact the McIntyres for curriculum information so that Tori could be properly placed at the school, the parents refused to cooperate.

    Mendoza filed truancy complaints against the McIntyres in 2007, and the couple filed suit for injunctive relief based on Texas Education Code, the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA), the Texas Constitution, and the United States Constitution.

    The appeals court ruled that educational regulations did not prevent the McIntyres’ First Amendment right to “free exercise of religion.” The court said that 1972 court case which found that Amish did not have to send their children to school after the eighth grade did not exempt the McIntyres.

    “No parents have ever prevailed in any reported case on a theory that they have an absolute constitutional right to educate their children in the home, completely free of any state supervision, regulation, or requirements,” the ruling stated. “They do not have an ‘absolute constitutional right to home school.’”


  135. I am raising my kids atheist in a God-obsessed culture: How I learned to parent godless children

    My children are surrounded by other kids' prayers and patriotism. But I'm determined to teach them to ignore it

    by JULIE DRIZIN, Salon August 5, 2014

    Goddammit!” “God bless you!” “For God’s sake!” “God forbid!”My children have heard me take “the Lord’s name in vain.” These expressions slip out as easily as expletives and are part of my vernacular, even though I don’t believe in God.
    God is not exactly welcome in our home.

    I’m not a hater (at least not anymore). I’m an atheist. My daughters know I’m the tooth fairy; they have no use for Santa Claus; and would consider the Bible a collection of boring, inaccessible stories (at worst) or fables on par with Greek and Roman mythology (at best).

    I’m raising good kids. They are good without God. They will not go to hell … because there is no hell. Neither will they go to heaven … because there is no heaven. I have taught my girls that “heaven” and “hell” are what we humans create for ourselves and each other right here on earth.

    Atheist. Say it over and over again and it sounds like a meaningless label. I prefer to call myself a humanist, which expresses what I embrace rather than what I reject. Humanism is my religion. I have faith in the higher power of people – our capacity, indeed our yearning, to do good. If you think sustaining faith in an invisible God or his sacrificial dead son is challenging, try being a spiritual humanist. People fuck up all the time: We disappoint, we hurt each other, we fail miserably. To err is human. But to forgive at leastfeels divine.

    So I forgive all of the evangelicals who’ve come knocking on my door to share the “Good News” with my family and save our souls.

    I forgive my former next-door neighbors – a Baptist minister and her husband ­– for having a “Veggie Tales” video marathon while baby-sitting for my non-Christian kids. I forgive my mom’s Orthodox Jewish friend for “gifting us” with a mezzuzah when my first daughter, Sophie, was born. A mezzuzah is a little box that houses a teeny-tiny scroll with a Hebrew prayer on it that many Jews hang on the doorposts of their homes as a sign of their faith. I would hang one if it could ward off Jesus’ traveling salesmen, but it doesn’t. And I forgive Kayla’s dad for suggesting that I solve a childcare crisis by sending my 11-year-old daughter Jessie to Bible camp with his children. Thanks, but I would rather her binge-watch reruns of “I Love Lucy.” Finally, I have to forgive myself for many years of ruthlessly judging those who believe in God as gullible, fearful children holding on to the security blanket of an imaginary friend.

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  136. Parenting has transformed my perspective on religion. I don’t want my children to face prejudice for their beliefs and I don’t want them to feel prejudice toward anyone else. On some fundamental level, I think world peace begins with me teaching my children respect for freedom and diversity. So how did a nice Jewish bat mitzvah girl become an outspoken believer that Dieu n’exist pas? Feminism made me do it. Sure, let’s blame feminism. Everybody does.

    A women’s studies class at Penn introduced me to the religious origins of gender oppression. I concluded that God didn’t create man, rather men created God in their own image. Patriarchy strikes again! So, God was yet another male authority figure to reject.

    I dabbled with the Goddess ­– Mother Earth – and found the concept of a female divinity empowering. But she didn’t stick.

    Still, I had a spiritual awakening. It didn’t happen inside any houses of worship or appear to me in the shadowy curves of a bagel. It happened, actually, during political demonstrations, when I felt a soulful connection to a larger group as we joined together to promote a common vision of justice. And I experienced an epiphany again during pregnancy and after giving birth, when I felt my own power of creation plus a deep connection to all women, across cultures and throughout time, who have grown a human life inside them, pushed a baby out of their bodies, fed that child from their breasts, and felt love of divine proportions.

    Many people find God in these moments of mystery and clarity. I found my way to theWashington Ethical Society (WES).What looks like a church, acts like a church but isn’t a church? A congregation of spiritual humanists.

    Both of my daughters had baby naming ceremonies at WES. These rituals don’t feature holy water or the drawing of blood. Instead, parents stand before the congregation, promise to love and accept their child’s uniqueness; and the congregation pledges to support our family, to know and care for our children, too.

    My daughters have also attended Sunday School at WES and (like most parents there) my partner and I have taught our kids and others in class. The kids engage in social justice work, like campaigning against slave/child labor in the cocoa industry and serving meals at a shelter for homeless women. Instead of Valentine’s Day, we have Pay Attention to Love Day. We hold a humanist seder at Passover and celebrate Spring Festival in place of Easter. “Stone Soup” is our Thanksgiving and Winter Festival is our end of year holiday.

    But God wormed his way into my children’s lives anyway. (He works in mysterious ways.) Where? At public school, of course, where my kids have been required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every day, a ritual I find nauseating both for its nationalism and its invocation of God.

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  137. I decided that perhaps my children should have more religious literacy than I do. I purchased a series of books called “This Is My Faith,” which are first-person journals of children explaining the symbols, rituals, tenets of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism and how their family practices their religion. One summer, I tried to get Jessie interested in creating her own “This Is My Faith” book about humanism/ethical culture, but like many projects launched with great enthusiasm, we never finished.

    My older daughter hasn’t really asked about God. But I’ve asked her plenty. Most recently:

    “Sophie, do you believe in God?”

    “I don’t know!”

    “You don’t know if there’s a God or you don’t know if you believe in God?”

    “I don’t know! Now, leave me alone!” (She is 15, after all, and has better things to do, usually involving earbuds and a palm-size screen.)

    Jessie, at 11, is surprisingly clearer on her beliefs. While rehearsing at home for a school chorus concert, she admitted to me that instead of singing “God shed his grace on thee” during “America, the Beautiful,” she silently mouths the words, just as she’s been doing for years, ­she confessed, during the pledge of Allegiance.

    This summer, Jessie went to a week of overnight camp, where they sang songs before meals and bedtime. At the end of the week, Leslie, the camp director, asked the girls for feedback on what they liked most and what they would change. My daughter pulled Leslie aside and explained that she is an atheist and wished that they didn’t sing songs that mentioned God. Leslie thanked her and said that she usually tells kids they can substitute “Earth” for “God” but just forgot this year.

    This past year, Sophie participated in the Coming of Age program at WES, a year-long rite of passage that educates parents about adolescent development. It includes spiritual experiences, like camping alone on a mountain. The program concluded with a moving graduation ceremony in which the teens gave speeches about how they had grown over the year and we parents tearfully sang songs to our children.

    It’s been a challenging year. Sophie and Jessie are the only two of their vast brood of cousins who aren’t having bar or bat mitzvahs. We’ve been to so many of them, I wondered if Sophie felt like she was missing something, a special event that focused just on her transition from childhood to young womanhood. So, I offered to throw her an alternative quinceañera. “We’re not Latino, Mom,” she reminded me.

    No, we’re not. We’re Jewish(ish). We’re liberals. We’re a two-mom family. We’re vegetarians. We’re not “nones,” that growing population of Americans who are disconnected from religious affiliation. We aren’t going it alone. But still, somehow, the thing that seems to push our family over the edge of mainstream America is our atheism.

    Julie Drizin directs the Journalism Center on Children & Families at the University of Maryland. She is a longtime member and a wedding officiant for the Washington Ethical Society


  138. Learning to Think in a Society Ruled by Absurd Religion and Other Dogma

    Children should be well prepared to question everyone and everything so they can become their own person.

    The following is an excerpt from Parenting Without God by Dan Arel http://dangerouslittlebooks.com/

    One important thing to teach our children is how to think critically. It is easy to tell them they should but it is not as easy to teach them how, mainly because we may not be that great at it ourselves.

    How many atheists do you know who are anti GMO or anti vaccination? We know these can be smart people who took on a position that is full of emotion, misinformation or bad research methods.

    Think back to earlier discussions about vaccinations when those opposed were flooding you with links, which were never links to scientific studies, but always to blogs or “information” sites from doctors who seemed to be selling a cure-all at the same time as they were telling you to avoid modern medicine.

    This is a failure in critical thinking and is usually the result of confirmation bias. If you start off with the notion that vaccines are dangerous you will be drawn to articles that confirm your position. Instead a position should be started from a clean slate. This is not easy to do but it crucial.

    Ask the question, “Are vaccines safe?” and from there look for information from trustworthy sources and see what they say. What do medical peer review journals have to say about vaccines? What do medical organizations say? What do opponents think and what are their sources? Are their sources as reliable as the medical professionals’?

    This very method applies to religion. Who is making the claim, does the claim defy the laws of nature that we understand? Is there simpler explanation for what happened? Is it possible this claim ever happened at all?

    Look at Noah’s flood, with two of every single animal on the planet and a handful of human beings on a single boat. Look first at the logistics. How big would the boat need to be and how much food would that require? What about the carnivorous animals? If you only brought two of each what did the lions eat for an entire trip?

    This alone makes the story seem more than unbelievable but then look at the scientific evidence. Have we found a boat that could have done this? Surely a boat of its size must have some rather impressive remains somewhere in the world. How about the placement of animals; did Noah go around and drop each animal off at its particular continent after the flood went down? How did he do this?

    Then we can look at the archeological evidence. Fossils form best in wet conditions. So just imagine the archeological gold mine left behind from this massive flood that would have drowned billions of creatures. So what have we found? Well, to date we have found nothing that respects a flood of this magnitude. In fact we have found every fossil just as we would imagine it would be with no flood.

    It seems fairly reasonable to conclude there was no flood. No mass killings of people and animals. This is nothing but a myth and can be treated as such. Thinking critically about such an issue was rather simple to find a logical conclusion.

    This can be used for every tale through the whole Bible. From talking snakes to virgin births, we can look at these stories and apply the same critical thinking skills to them.

    Our children should be using this method everyday in all matters of life. With claims from friends, family, parents, and teachers, they should be well prepared to question everyone and everything. Doing this also allows them to become their own person and not simply a carbon copy of what people are telling them to be.

    I think many of us, especially those who grew up in religion, had it engrained that the questioning of claims is frowned upon and God has an exact plan for who you should be.

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  139. For many, they never break out of that cycle and allow those whom they consider an authority to dictate how their lives should be led. The generation we want to raise would be a generation, in which nothing is unquestionable, from religion to the government and even to science.

    It is often imagined that we cannot question science, but the core of scientific research is questioning. That is what peer-review is all about. Often theists, especially creationists, claim we all have faith in science, or call science a religion because we simply accept what scientists say. This could not be further from the truth and of course we know this. However this is something important we should be teaching our children. The method in which we apply critical thinking to science, the scientific method and the rigorous testing scientific ideas are put through ensures that only sound ideas come out the other end as scientifically valid, and all the others are discarded as nonsense or failures.

    Pseudoscience exists because some people lack the ability to discard disproven or un-testable ideas. From homeopathy to astrology, science discards claims and yet people insist on continuing to believe their claims. People who hold onto these ideas and continue to believe them are lacking in critical thinking skills.

    How to spot pseudoscience was already discussed, but it bears repeating here because pseudoscience is such a strong example of the dangers of not applying critical thinking skills to real life. How many people need to lose a battle with treatable cancer because they believe nonsense claims by alternative medicine practitioners who have an end-all cure that has never been tested, or if it has, failed.

    The Burzynski Clinic in Texas offers such a service, de- spite FDA warning that their treatments are not only uncap- proved, but that its advertising and claims are deemed to be unlawful. They have been sued for misleading patients, insurance fraud and not being up to State medical standards. Yet today they remain open for business, offering a cure that is too good to be true, while people who are not using critical thinking skills and who love claims that are too good to be true, continue to throw all their money at these frauds, no matter the results.

    This fraud continues across the globe and religion has found a way to capitalize on it. This is another reason why critical thinking is so crucial to our children’s lives.

    How many TV evangelists have we seen in our lifetime who can heal those who cannot walk, heal the blind, or help someone overcome addiction; all by placing their hands on someone’s head, yelling loud prayers or speaking in incoherent “tongues” and then boom, healed, up walking and dancing, while the audience goes crazy and throws money at the pastor and church to continue this miraculous healing.

    This is all a fraud, everyone involved is in on this secret, and they have discovered that people want to believe in miracles, they want to believe so badly that they will suspend reality to do so. We are eager to believe in things outside the laws of nature, we love the paranormal, even though many of us know that no evidence ever supports such claims.

    It may be crazy, but think about it. How many people do you know who do not believe in God, but yet seem to think ghosts are possible? Maybe it’s you, but how could this be? You don’t believe in a soul or afterlife, yet you believe we somehow stay alive after death, or some energy of ours sticks around? Even us skeptical thinkers can fall victim to thoughts like this. We seemed to be evolutionarily primed for it.

    Dan Arel is the author of Parenting Without God and writes for his blog Danthropology. Follow him on Twitter @danarel


  140. Death of 10 year old cancer sufferer Tamar Stitt likely preventable WA coroner finds

    ABC News Australia October 17, 2014

    The death of a 10-year-old cancer sufferer may have been prevented had she undergone chemotherapy instead of natural treatments, the West Australian coroner has found.

    Perth girl Tamar Stitt died in El Salvador in November 2009 three months after being diagnosed with liver cancer.

    Doctors had recommended she undergo chemotherapy, but her parents refused and instead chose natural remedies such as clay wraps, herbal teas and a healthy diet.

    Coroner Ros Fogliani said decisions made by Tamar's parents were not in her best interests.

    "Mr and Mrs Stitt were at an extremely vulnerable point, beset with fear and confusion about their daughter's illness and her future," the coroner said.

    However, she declined to refer the matter to the state's prosecuting authorities.

    "It is clear from the evidence before me at the inquest that Tamar's parents at all times loved her, wanted her to be cured of her cancer and did what they believed was in her best interests by endeavouring to treat her with natural therapies," she said.

    Parents misguided: coroner

    "Tragically they were misguided, and they compounded their error by refusing to listen to reason from Tamar's treating oncologist and the doctors at PMH [Princess Margaret Hospital].

    "Tamar's death was tragic and it is likely that it could have been prevented."

    During the inquest the court was told Tamar's parents felt they were bullied by medical staff who advised she receive chemotherapy.

    Her father Trevor told the court he did not accept that it was wrong to choose to treat his daughter's cancer with alternative therapies, and he and Tamar's mother Arley did what they believed was best for their daughter.

    He said he and his wife decided against chemotherapy for their daughter because of its horrific side effects and because he felt threatened by doctors.

    Mrs Stitt testified that she believed her daughter had a 100 per cent chance of being cured with natural therapies, and she had initially responded well to such treatment.

    The parents eventually agreed to allow Tamar to undergo chemotherapy in El Salvador, but by then it was too late.


  141. Where This Atheist Parent Is This Christmas

    by Libby Anne - Love, Joy, Feminism blog December 13, 2014


    Last year my in-laws gave us a really nice toy nativity set, for the kids. This year I got it out again, and it has been getting a lot of use.

    When I first had children after leaving my parents’ conservative evangelical beliefs behind, I was afraid. Mainly, I was afraid that my children would be hurt by religion in the way I had. And so I tried to shield them from it, to keep it away from them. When relatives gave us a book about Noah’s Ark, I changed the words and the story when reading it to Sally. see: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/02/what-to-do-with-bible-story-books.html

    Over time, my perspective and ideas began to shift. I met progressive Christians with a completely different approach to the Bible and faith, and ceased to see religion—rather than specific beliefs—as the enemy. I realized that if I tried to determine my children’s future beliefs, I would be repeating my parents’ mistake. I realized that stories only have the power we give them, and I began to see beauty in a diversity of myths and stories—Christian and Hindu, science fiction and fantasy. I let go of my fear.

    And so when Sally asked me, yesterday, to tell her the story that went along with the nativity set, I did, without fear. Sally still lives in a world of stories, a world where meaning is often more important than truth.
    Sometimes reading mythology and other stories leads to interesting discussions on what is “true” and what isn’t and what we mean when we use the word “true.” Besides, Sally is still young. I take her with me to our local Unitarian Universalist church so that she can learn about a variety of ideas and traditions. She will form her own beliefs as she grows, and that process is hers.

    There’s something else too, I’ve realized. Sally’s parents were raised Christian and her grandparents are Christian, but so were her great-grandparents, and her great-great-grandparents, going back for centuries. There is a sort of heritage there. When I tell Sally the nativity story, we are in some sense connected those with past generations. Of course, I wouldn’t want to take this too far—it is entirely possible that some of our ancestors were skeptics, and if you go back far enough our ancestors were pagans, like the rest of Europe. But in the near and medium past, those traditions are very much there.

    Religion has often been cultural rather than just supernatural. The traditions, the ceremonies, the stories—these things play a cultural role too. Of course, one role they play is to bind a group together, and by openly not believing in the supernatural and not identifying as Christian, I place myself outside of that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t find the traditions, with their cultural aspect and long history, interesting and (at times) appealing and (sometimes) meaningful.

    Of course, I am also working to introduce Sally to a variety of religious traditions and cultures, both through the UU church and through books we check out from the library. I find a variety of traditions, both religious and cultural, fascinating. So it is not as though I’m raising Sally Christian, with the exception of not actually believing Christianity’s supernatural claims. I’m not. It’s more that I’ve stopped fearing it and seeing all of it as wholly negative and something only to be avoided.

    It’s a perspective change more than anything else. And it’s a perspective change I like.

    How about you? How are you approaching the holidays with the children in your life?

  142. How secular family values stack up

    By PHIL ZUCKERMAN, Op-Ed Los Angeles Times January 14, 2015

    Phil Zuckerman is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College and author of "Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions."

    More children are “growing up godless” than at any other time in our nation's history. They are the offspring of an expanding secular population that includes a relatively new and burgeoning category of Americans called the “Nones,” so nicknamed because they identified themselves as believing in “nothing in particular” in a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center.

    The number of American children raised without religion has grown significantly since the 1950s, when fewer than 4% of Americans reported growing up in a nonreligious household, according to several recent national studies. That figure entered the double digits when a 2012 study showed that 11% of people born after 1970 said they had been raised in secular homes. This may help explain why 23% of adults in the U.S. claim to have no religion, and more than 30% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say the same.

    So how does the raising of upstanding, moral children work without prayers at mealtimes and morality lessons at Sunday school? Quite well, it seems.

    Far from being dysfunctional, nihilistic and rudderless without the security and rectitude of religion, secular households provide a sound and solid foundation for children, according to Vern Bengston, a USC professor of gerontology and sociology.

    For nearly 40 years, Bengston has overseen the Longitudinal Study of Generations, which has become the largest study of religion and family life conducted across several generational cohorts in the United States. When Bengston noticed the growth of nonreligious Americans becoming increasingly pronounced, he decided in 2013 to add secular families to his study in an attempt to understand how family life and intergenerational influences play out among the religionless.

    He was surprised by what he found: High levels of family solidarity and emotional closeness between parents and nonreligious youth, and strong ethical standards and moral values that had been clearly articulated as they were imparted to the next generation.

    “Many nonreligious parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the ‘religious' parents in our study,” Bengston told me. “The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose.”

    My own ongoing research among secular Americans — as well as that of a handful of other social scientists who have only recently turned their gaze on secular culture — confirms that nonreligious family life is replete with its own sustaining moral values and enriching ethical precepts. Chief among those: rational problem solving, personal autonomy, independence of thought, avoidance of corporal punishment, a spirit of “questioning everything” and, far above all, empathy.

    continued below

  143. For secular people morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs. As one atheist mom who wanted to be identified only as Debbie told me: “The way we teach them what is right and what is wrong is by trying to instill a sense of empathy ... how other people feel. You know, just trying to give them that sense of what it's like to be on the other end of their actions. And I don't see any need for God in that. ...

    “If your morality is all tied in with God,” she continued, “what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children … no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system.”

    The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging. Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

    Recent research also has shown that children raised without religion tend to remain irreligious as they grow older — and are perhaps more accepting. Secular adults are more likely to understand and accept the science concerning global warming, and to support women's equality and gay rights. One telling fact from the criminology field: Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics. This echoes what the criminology field has documented for more than a century — the unaffiliated and the nonreligious engage in far fewer crimes.

    Another meaningful related fact: Democratic countries with the lowest levels of religious faith and participation today — such as Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Belgium and New Zealand — have among the lowest violent crime rates in the world and enjoy remarkably high levels of societal well-being. If secular people couldn't raise well-functioning, moral children, then a preponderance of them in a given society would spell societal disaster. Yet quite the opposite is the case.

    Being a secular parent and something of an expert on secular culture, I know well the angst many secular Americans experience when they can't help but wonder: Could I possibly be making a mistake by raising my children without religion? The unequivocal answer is no. Children raised without religion have no shortage of positive traits and virtues, and they ought to be warmly welcomed as a growing American demographic.

    to read the links embedded in this article go to:


  144. Kahlil Gibran - On Children

    Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
    You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

  145. Let child discover his own gender Ontario judge tells parents in custody order

    Father burned his son's female clothes, while the mother was getting rid of his male ones

    CBC News June 12, 2015

    A Halton judge has ruled that parents need to let their child discover his own gender in a custody case that involved threatening emails and burning girls' clothes.

    Justice Sheilagh O'Connell has ruled that a mom and dad will share custody of a four-year-old biological boy who said at various times that he wanted to be a girl but said neither can force their preference on the child.

    The mom dressed the boy in girls' clothes and used female pronouns with him. The father, meanwhile, burned the female clothes and said the mother was inflicting her will on the boy — specifically, that she'd always wanted a girl.

    O'Connell ruled that the child — referred to as S. — should be able to discover his own gender.

    "Each parent needs to permit S. a variety of ways of expressing himself and S. should be supported but not encouraged towards any gender preference," she wrote in her June 1 decision.

    "If the mother is forcing S. to be a stereotypical girl against his wishes, then this no doubt will cause him emotional harm. If the father is forcing S. to be a stereotypical boy against his wishes, then this no doubt will cause him emotional harm."

    The case involves a Burlington, Ont., father and an Oakville, Ont., mother. The pair, who have two children – four-year-old S. and a three-year-old – divorced in February 2013 after a six-year marriage.

    Burned female clothing in the backyard

    It was a bitter split, and the pair battled over long-standing custody issues. Both of them had access in 2014 when the father discovered that S., while at his mother's house, was wearing female clothes and being referred to as "she."

    The mother contended that S. wants to be female and refers to himself as a girl. The father argued that the mother was inflicting her wishes on S., and that she once said S. "would have made such a pretty girl."

    continued below

  146. At one point the court decision reads, the father burned S.'s female clothes in a backyard bonfire. The mother says that S. was forced to do so. The father says it was S.'s idea.

    Eventually, with urging from the Halton Children's Aid Society, the pair sought the help of Dr. Herbert Joseph Bonifacio, who heads up the Transgender Youth Clinic at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

    Bonifacio said S. was interested in stereotypical boys' and girls' clothes and activities, and that gender expression shouldn't be confused with gender identity. Bonifacio recommended that the parents not associate clothes and toys with a specific gender, but provide a variety of clothes and toys and let S. pick. He recommended that the parents still refer to S. as a boy.

    Gave the child 'girl stickers'

    The father sent threatening emails to Bonifacio, telling the doctor that "unless I'm in jail, you are my new special project." He also said the doctor had given S. "girl stickers."

    "Keep hunting the men that fight for their kids and keep transing (sic) children that hate this," he wrote. "That's the kind of person you are."

    The father later apologized, telling Bonifacio that his anger was the result of his own gender identity struggle.

    Meanwhile, a Halton CAS worker visited the mother's house and found two piles of clothes, labelled "keep" and "give away." The "keep" pile was all female clothes and the "give away" pile was all male, signifying that the mother wasn't complying with Bonifacio's order. The CAS took over custody of the children. A CAS worker also visited S. at school, when he expressed conflicting desires about his gender.

    O'Connell's lengthy order said that S. will divide his time between parents. She also ordered that the parents abide by Bonifacio's recommendations.

    "Neither parent shall unilaterally dress S. as a girl or force S. to take on certain gender roles against his wishes," she wrote.

    "In the event that S. expresses a desire to dress as a girl, then the parent in whose care S. is shall respect S.'s desire but shall contact the other parent and the society immediately to notify them of S.'s wishes and the parties shall agree as to how to proceed."

    Read the court decision at: https://www.canlii.org/en/on/oncj/doc/2015/2015oncj307/2015oncj307.html?searchUrlHash=AAAAAQAHaGFsdG9uIAAAAAAB&resultIndex=6


  147. Lawsuit alleges 7 year old quizzed on religion ordered to sit alone at lunch for telling classmates he didn’t believe in God

    By Eugene Volokh, The Washington Post August 3, 2015

    The allegations from the Complaint, which claims the teacher’s actions violated the child’s First Amendment rights:

    1. In February of 2015, A.B. was a second grader at Forest Park Elementary School, a school that is within Fort Wayne Community Schools. During a discussion with classmates on the playground he responded to a question by indicating that he did not go to church because he did not believe in God. This resulted in his teacher interrogating the child as to his beliefs and requiring the child to sit by himself during lunch and not talk to his classmates during lunch for three days. This violates the First Amendment. The defendant’s actions caused great distress to A.B. and resulted in the child being ostracized by his peers past the three-day “banishment.” No meaningful attempt has been made to remedy these injuries and the child seeks his damages. . . .

    7. In February of 2015, A.B. was a second-grade student at Forest Park Elementary School. . . .

    9. On or about February 23, 2015, A.B. and his classmates were on the playground during the school day immediately before lunch when A.B. was asked by one of his classmates if he attended church.

    10. A.B. responded by stating that he did not go to church and did not believe in God. He also stated that it was fine with him if his inquiring classmate believed in God.

    11. The classmate said that A.B. had hurt her feelings by saying that he did not believe in God and started to cry.

    12. A playground supervisor reported to [A.B.’s teacher] what had happened.

    13. At that point the students were going to lunch and [the teacher] asked A.B. if he had told the girl that he did not believe in God and A.B. said he had and asked what he had done wrong.

    14. [The teacher] asked A.B. if he went to church, whether his family went to church, and whether his mother knew how he felt about God.

    15. She also asked A.B. if he believed that maybe God exists.

    16. [The teacher] told A.B. that she was very concerned about what he had done and that she was going to contact his mother — although she never did.

    17. This was very upsetting to A.B. as he was made to feel that he had done something wrong.

    18. A day or two after the initial incident, A.B. and his fellow-student who had become upset with his comment on the playground were sent to another adult employed at Forest Park Elementary School.

    19. This person asked them what the problem was and A.B. indicated that his classmate had become upset when, in response to her question, he had said he did not go to church and did not believe in God.

    20. Upon hearing this, the adult employee looked at A.B.’s classmate and stated that she should not be worried and should be happy she has faith and that she should not listen to A.B.’s bad ideas. She then patted the little girl’s hand.

    21. This was, again, extremely upsetting to A.B. as it reinforced his feeling that he had done something very wrong.

    continued below

  148. 22. On the day of the incident and for an additional two days thereafter, [the teacher] required that A.B. sit by himself during lunch and told him he should not talk to the other students and stated that this was because he had offended them. This served to reinforce A.B.’s feeling that he had committed some transgression that justified his exclusion.

    23. When V.S. was told by A.B. what had happened she called the Assistant Principal of the school and demanded an explanation.

    24. The Assistant Principal set up a three-way telephone conversation with V.S., [the teacher] and himself.

    25. [The teacher] confirmed her involvement in this matter as noted above.

    26. V.S. demanded that the school not isolate her son or punish him for his beliefs.

    27. After three days A.B. was allowed to join his classmates for lunch and all sanctions and restrictions were lifted.

    28. After this three-day period, and after V.S. complained, A.B. was told by [the teacher] and other teachers that he could believe what he wants.

    29. But this was after A.B. had been publicly separated from his classmates and informed that he could not speak to them. All the students in his class heard and were aware of this. He was publicly shamed and made to feel that his personal beliefs were terribly wrong.

    30. No efforts were made to correct the damages that had been done.

    31. A.B. came home from school on multiple occasions crying saying that he knows that everyone at school — teachers and students — hate him.

    32. Even now there are some classmates who will not talk to A.B.

    33. Even now A.B. remains anxious and fearful about school, which is completely contrary to how he felt before this incident.

    34. At all times defendant acted, and refused to act, under color of state law.

    The school district released a statement saying, “It is clear that it is not the province of a public school to advance or inhibit religious beliefs or practices. Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, this remains the inviolate province of the individual and the church of his/her choice. The rights of any minority, no matter how small, must be protected.” So far, the court hasn’t decided any substantive matters in the case, but it did issue a decision last Tuesday allowing the child’s mother (as the child’s legal guardian) to proceed anonymously, so as to preserve the child’s anonymity to the extent possible:

    A.B. is a young child and this suit involves religion and public schools-a topic that “has a tendency to inflame unreasonably some individuals” in most communities, including Fort Wayne. Accordingly, at this time, the Court finds that the risk to A.B.’s health and safety, if his mother is identified by name, outweighs the public’s interest in judicial openness and overcomes the presumption against anonymous litigation.

    The complaint was filed by the ACLU of Indiana.

    read the full complaint at:



  149. Jehovahs Witness grandparents ordered to keep faith to themselves

    Mother argues that 4-year-old can decide on religious practices when she gets older

    By Jason Proctor, CBC News October 21, 2015

    A pair of devout Jehovah's Witnesses have been ordered by a B.C. provincial court judge not to talk about religion in front of their four-year-old granddaughter.

    The couple lost their bid for unsupervised access to the girl because they insisted on taking her to worship at their faith's Kingdom Hall despite the repeated objections of the child's mother.

    The girl is identified only as A.W. and the grandparents as A.R. and B.R. in Judge Edna Ritchie's 12-page decision. And for now, they're on a short leash.

    "There are many people with strongly held religious views that do not discuss those views in front of others, and specifically not in front of children," Ritchie wrote.

    Unless A.R. and B.R. can satisfy the court that they can comply with the mother's wishes, Ritchie said, "their time with A.W. must be supervised and limited."

    Religious rights vs. parental responsibility

    The case pits the Family Law Act against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    The Family Law Act states that only a guardian has parental responsibilities, including decisions about religious upbringing, and the mother, M.W., is sole guardian.

    But A.R. and B.R. argued that forbidding them from expressing their faith to their grandchild would violate a charter right to practise their religion.

    The grandparents want A.W. to experience their religion, while M.W. insists her daughter "can decide when she is older whether or not to participate in any religious practices."

    The battle is the culmination of a saga that began when the child's biological dad, L.R., told his parents he had fathered a child three weeks after A.W. was born.

    L.R. was "disfellowshipped" from the Jehovah's Witness faith, a type of religious excommunication. He testified that he has little contact with A.R. and B.R. He also pays no child support and has no parental responsibilities.

    A.R. and B.R. were determined to have contact with their granddaughter, and the child's mother felt it important for them to be part of their lives. She previously allowed them unsupervised access.

    continued below

  150. Poppa and Momma vs. Grandpa and Grandma

    But according to the decision, the relationship between the "well-meaning, determined grandmother" and M.W. has been strained from the outset.

    M.W. also objected to the couple insisting the girl call them Poppa and Momma instead of Grandpa and Grandma. But by far the biggest disagreement arose over visits to the Kingdom Hall.

    From the time A.W. was a baby, A.R. and B.R. took her to services; M.W. said she wasn't happy, but didn't object until December 2013.

    She switched the timing of their visits, but then learned from her daughter the grandparents had taken A.W. to services the following spring; A.R. insisted the child "had begged to go to Kingdom Hall."

    Visits were then limited to supervised access at M.W.'s home.

    But even at that, M.W. was upset to find her daughter watching a Jehovah's Witness video on A.R.'s laptop. The grandmother insisted the child had pushed the play icon before she could stop her.

    Mother knows best

    The judge noted that when two or more parents with different religious views share parental responsibility the court will often support the child being exposed to each religion involved.

    But because A.R. and B.R. are not guardians, the court was bound to respect the decision of the mother. For that same reason, Ritchie also found the charter argument didn't apply.

    The couple cited another Supreme Court of Canada case involving a divorce in which a mother with custody had obtained an order forcing her Jehovah Witness ex-husband not to discuss religion with their children.

    In that case, the top court ruled a custodial parent does not have a right to limit the other parent's ability to discuss religion unless the child's best interests were threatened.

    In this case, Ritchie found it wasn't fair to place A.W. in a holy war between her mother and grandparents.

    "I am concerned that the applicants' demonstrated inability to respect and comply with M.W's decisions on religion will continue to cause conflict," she wrote. "It is not in A.W.'s best interests to be exposed to that conflict."

    Read the Ruling at:



  151. Children also have the right to freedom of religion or belief, and that must be protected


    NEW YORK / GENEVA (23 October 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, on Thursday called on all Governments represented at the UN General Assembly “to respect religious practices by children and their families and support families in fulfilling their role in providing an enabling environment for the realisation of the rights of the child.”

    “Every individual child is a rights holder in his or her own capacity as recognised in Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Mr. Bielefeldt recalled during the presentation of his special report* on the rights of the child and his or her parents in the area of freedom of religion or belief.

    “Violations of freedom of religion or belief often affect the rights of children and their parents,” he said. “Children, typically girls, from religious minorities for example, are abducted and forcibly converted to another religion through forced early marriage.”

    The rights expert also urged religious communities across the world to ensure respect for the freedom of religion or belief of children within their teaching and community practices, bearing in mind the status of the child as a rights holder.

    “Religious community leaders should support the elimination of harmful practices inflicted on children, including by publicly challenging problematic religious justifications for such practices whenever they occur,” he said.

    With regard to possible conflicts, the Special Rapporteur stressed the need for due diligence by the State when dealing with conflicting human rights concerns, ensuring non-discriminatory family laws and the settlement of family-related conflicts, and combating harmful practices.

    “While in many situations of violations the rights of the child and the rights of his or her parents may be affected in conjunction, it is not always the case,” Mr. Bielefeldt noted. “The interests of parents and children are not necessarily identical, including in the area of freedom of religion or belief”.

    continued below

  152. The expert highlighted that parents or legal guardians have the right and duty to direct the child in the exercise of his or her freedom of religion or belief. “Such direction should be given in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child in order to facilitate a more and more active role of the child in exercising his or her freedom of religion or belief, thus paying respect to the child as a rights holder from early on,” he said.

    “Parents are also not obliged to provide a religiously ‘neutral’ upbringing in the name of the child’s right to an ‘open future,’” he added. “The rights of parents to freedom of religion or belief include their rights to educate their children according to their own conviction and to introduce their children to religious initiation rites.”

    In his report, the Special Rapporteur discusses issues related to religious socialization; religious instruction within the family; participation in religious community life; religious education in schools; the voluntary display of religious symbols in schools; respect for the evolving capacities of the maturing child; and non-discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

    (*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report to the General Assembly (A/70/286): http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=86

    Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt (Germany) assumed his mandate in August 2010. Mr. Bielefeldt is Professor of Human Rights and Human Rights Politics at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. From 2003 to 2009, he was Director of Germany’s National Human Rights Institution. The Special Rapporteur’s research interests include various interdisciplinary facets of human rights theory and practice, with a focus on freedom of religion or belief.

    He was the first human rights expert that conducted an official country visit to Cyprus in the March/April 2012. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomReligion/Pages/FreedomReligionIndex.aspx

    The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

    Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ReligionOrBelief.aspx


    - See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16647&LangID=E#sthash.LEXpXwA5.dpuf

  153. Far from bolstering generosity a religious upbringing diminishes it

    The Economist, November 7th 2015

    AN ARGUMENT often advanced for the encouragement of religion is that, to paraphrase St Matthew’s report of Jesus’s words, it leads people to love their neighbours as themselves. That would be a powerful point were it true. But is it? This was the question Jean Decety, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, asked in a study just published in Current Biology.

    The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World


    Dr Decety is not the first to wonder, in a scientific way, about the connection between religion and altruism. He is, though, one of the first to do it without recourse to that standard but peculiar laboratory animal beloved of psychologists, the undergraduate student. Instead, he collaborated with researchers in Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey, as well as with fellow Americans, to look at children aged between five and 12 and their families.

    Altogether, Dr Decety and his colleagues recruited 1,170 families for their project, and focused on one child per family. Five hundred and ten of their volunteer families described themselves as Muslim, 280 as Christian, 29 as Jewish, 18 as Buddhist and 5 as Hindu. A further 323 said they were non-religious, 3 were agnostic and 2 ticked the box marked “other”.

    Follow-up questions to the faithful among the sample then asked how often they engaged in religious activities, and also about spirituality in the home. That let Dr Decety calculate how religious each family was. He found that about half the children in religious households came from highly observant homes; the spiritual lives of the other half were more relaxed. He then arranged for the children to play a version of what is known to psychologists as the dictator game—an activity they use to measure altruism.

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  154. In truth the dictator game is not much of a game, since only one of the participants actually plays it. In Dr Decety’s version, each child was presented with a collection of 30 attractive stickers and told that he or she could keep ten of them. Once a child had made his selection, the experimenter told him that there was not time to play the game with all the children at the school, but that he could, if he wished, give away some of his ten stickers to a random schoolmate who would not otherwise be able to take part. The child was then given a few minutes to decide whether he wanted to give up some of his stickers—and, if so, how many. The researchers used the number of stickers surrendered as a measure of altruism.

    The upshot was that the children of non-believers were significantly more generous than those of believers. They gave away an average of 4.1 stickers. Children from a religious background gave away 3.3. And a further analysis of the two largest religious groups (Jews, Buddhists and Hindus were excluded because of their small numbers in the sample), showed no statistical difference between them. Muslim children gave away 3.2 stickers on average, while Christian children gave away 3.3. Moreover, a regression analysis on these groups of children showed that their generosity was inversely correlated with their households’ religiosity. This effect remained regardless of a family’s wealth and status (rich children were more generous than poor ones), a child’s age (older children were more generous than younger ones) or the nationality of the participant. These findings are, however, in marked contrast to parents’ assessments of their own children’s sensitivity to injustice. When asked, religious parents reported their children to be more sensitive than non-believing parents did.

    This is only one result, of course. It would need to be replicated before strong conclusions could be drawn. But it is suggestive. And what it suggests is not only that what is preached by religion is not always what is practised, which would not be a surprise, but that in some unknown way the preaching makes things worse.


  155. A New Book Explores How the Religious “Nones” Are Raising Their Children

    by Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist November 20, 2015

    As the demographics of the U.S. shift away from organized religion, it brings up a lot of questions about how much religion you should have in your life when you’re not all that religious yourself. If you’re a “None” who doesn’t believe in some Higher Power, does it make sense to go to church, even on the major holidays? How should you introduce the topic of religion to your kids?

    Atheists have been discussing these questions for a long time, but those answers don’t apply to everyone who isn’t affiliated with a traditional faith.

    Those topics are what Christel Manning, a professor at Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University, addresses in her new book Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children (NYU Press, 2015).

    In the excerpt below, Manning talks about what prompted her to write the book in the first place:

    The idea for this book began ten years ago. It was December, and I had just picked up my then three-year-old daughter, Sheila, from preschool. “Look, look, Christmas lights,” she piped up from the back seat of the car, “Mommy, look there’s Santa.”

    “Yes, dear,” I replied, “Santa comes every year.” “Why does Santa come?”

    “To make people happy.”

    “Why does he want to make people happy?” “Because it’s Christmas.”

    “But why?”

    I paused. I was not sure what to tell my daughter.

    Christmas celebrates the day that Jesus Christ was born?
    But then she would ask, who was Jesus and why be happy about his birth? Why indeed?

    My husband and I celebrate Christmas every year. We get a tree, exchange gifts, go visit family and eat holiday foods. But none of our celebration is about religion. I no longer believe in God, much less a personal deity who incarnates in human form, and neither does he. Both of us were raised Christian but left the church as teenagers and have not returned since, except for friends’ weddings, baptisms, and funerals. While my husband expresses indifference to anything spiritual, I became a seeker of sorts. Over the years, I experimented with Buddhist meditation and feminist goddess rituals and eventually acquired a doctorate in religious studies. That degree has given me a fulfilling career, but it had not prepared me for my daughter’s question about Christmas.

    Her questions led to me to ask myself, what do I believe in, and how do I transmit those beliefs to my child? Despite the vagueness of my own spirituality, I began to think that maybe now was the time to introduce religion into Sheila’s life. After all, faith had been an important part of my own childhood. I thought of the rich tradition I grew up with in Southern Germany in the 1960s and 1970s: listening to stories of the Bible, building a crèche with my sisters, lighting Advent candles, singing carols while my grandmother played the piano, our nightly prayers asking God to protect Mama, Daddy, and everyone else. It was all so beautiful and comforting and safe. I wanted Sheila to have what I had.

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  156. Even if I had rejected it later in my life, why hold a child hostage to my own doubts? Although I could not pretend to convey the faith my mother had, maybe I could have my daughter baptized and enroll her in Sunday school, as my sister did with her children. But when I ran the idea by my husband he was adamant: “I don’t want Sheila indoctrinated in all that. Besides it would be hypocritical.” He had a point.

    I kept thinking about the question, and initially I felt very alone. Although we had secular friends, none of them had children at home. And our religious friends who did have children were raising them either Catholic or Jewish. I did not know anybody else like me. So, as parents often do, I tried reaching out to other moms and dads whom I suspected might be nonreligious. People in Connecticut tend to keep their views on religion to themselves, but when asked directly many were eager to share their experience, and I discovered there were several other parents who shared my concerns. Still, I wondered how representative these parents were of broader trends. After all, we live in New Haven, a college town filled with educated liberals who tend to be more secular than the rest of the population. So, as academics often do, I did some research. An initial review of the relevant work in the social sciences confirmed my growing realization that my struggle is not unusual. Although the majority of Americans are affiliated with organized religion and seek to transmit that tradition to their children, parents with no religion comprise a significant and growing segment of the population.

    Recent nationwide surveys show that one-fifth of Americans now list their religious affiliation as “None” or their religious preference as “nothing in particular” — up from only 7 percent twenty years ago. Scholars seeking to compare these individuals to those who do claim a religion, have dubbed them the “Nones,” a term that I will explain in the following chapters. In many parts of the country, the number of Nones rivals that of major religious denominations. Significantly, Nones comprise one-third of adults under thirty, those poised to be parents of the next generation. The decisions they make about religion in their families will help shape the future of organized religion in America.

    Who are these Nones? Fortunately for my investigation, their sudden growth has increased scholarly interest in the nonreligious. We now know more about the demographic characteristics of the unaffiliated. For instance, although they are more likely to be young and male and live in certain parts of the country, they increasingly resemble the average American in terms of education, income, and race. We also know more about the Nones’ religious characteristics, although what those characteristics are depends on who you talk to. While there is considerable debate over how secular the Nones are, they are clearly not monolithic. Their ranks include more atheists and agnostics than those of the general population as well as a wide diversity of religious and spiritual worldviews. Recent studies have closely examined various segments of the unaffiliated population such as unchurched Christians, young people, and atheists. But the segment I was interested in, parents, had received little attention. This book is intended to fill that gap.

    Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children is available beginning today in bookstores and online.

    Excerpt reprinted by permission of the publisher.


  157. The King of Children: The Life and Death of Janusz Korczak


    Betty Jean Lifton, St. Martin's Press, Apr 15, 1997 - Biography & Autobiography - 416 pages

    A classic as stirring as Schindler's List, The King of Children is the acclaimed biography of the first advocate of children's rights and the man known as the savior of hundreds of orphans in the Warsaw ghetto.

    Janusz Korczak was known throughout Europe as a Pied Piper of destitute children even before the onslaught of World War II. But on August 6, 1942, Korczak stepped into legend. Refusing offers for his own safety, and with defiant dignity, he led the orphans under his care in the Warsaw Ghetto to the trains that would take them to Treblinka.

    An educator and pediatrician, Korczak, a Polish Jew, introduced progressive orphanages for both the Jewish and Catholic children in Warsaw. Determined to shield his children from the injustices of the adult world, he built these orphanages into "just communities" with their own parliaments and children's courts. Korczak also founded the first national children's newspaper, testified on behalf of children in juvenile courts, and trained teachers and parents in "moral education," with his books How to Love a Child and How to Respect a Child.

    The King of Children is now recognized as a classic work for educators, historians, parents, and anyone who lives or works with a child.

    A New York Times Notable Book of the Year


    Taking Root: My Life as a Child of Janusz Korczak, the Father of Children’s Rights – The Biography of Shlomo Nadel

    Book launch: In the fall of 2015, the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and youth partnered with the Janusz Korczak Foundation of Canada to publish the book: "My Life as a Child of Janusz Korczak, the Father of Children’s Rights – The biography of Shlomo Nadel", by Lea Lipiner. In recognition of International Human Rights Day (December 10th), the Provincial Advocate and UNICEF Canada hosted a book launch event at the Ontario Legislature (including an exhibit of photos from the book) and called on the provincial government and child welfare leaders to adopt lessons from “the father of children’s rights.”

    Download a PDF of the book at:


    Dr. Janusz Korczak (1878 -1942) was a pediatrician, author, champion of child rights and a hero of the Holocaust. He is considered to be the prime inspiration of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) - one of the most widely adopted human rights instruments in the world. Adopted in 1989, the UNCRC changed how children were viewed and treated by outlining the inalienable rights of every child in three key areas: provision, participation and protection. Today, the human rights treaty has been ratified by 194 countries, including Canada.

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  158. Through the 1920s and 1930s until his death in 1942, Korczak focused on the health and welfare of orphans in Poland and created an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland that was built on a unique model of care that resembled a children’s republic.

    Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit (July 22, 1878 – August 1942), was a Polish-Jewish author, pediatrician, pedagogue and hero of the Holocaust. He was an early proponent of children’s right for human dignity and respect and the value of dialogue with children as friends and partners. He has become an international symbol of the fight for social justice and rights for vulnerable children, and his theories have inspired, amongst numerous advocate groups, the UN Convention of Rights of the Child - one of the most widely adopted rights instrument in the world.

    Through the 1920s and 1930s, until his death in 1942, Korczak focused on the health and welfare of orphans in Poland. He created an orphanage built upon a unique philosophy of child-centred care where children and youth participated in the production of their own food, wrote and produced their own newspaper, voiced their own needs, and operated their own Children’s Court to deal with behavioural problems. For a complete biography, please visit the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada at http://www.januszkorczak.ca/biography/

    Initially, Korczak’s orphanage served children of all backgrounds. However, after Nazi Germany occupied Warsaw, non-Jewish children were removed from his care and his orphans were segregated into the Jewish ghetto. Korczak is most widely known for the infamous “March of the Children”. Although he was given a reprieve, when the staff and children of his orphanage were ordered to be deported, he refused to leave his children. On August 5, 1942 he accompanied them on a march through the Warsaw Ghetto into the cattle cars that took them to the gas chambers of Treblinka, where they perished together. An eyewitness described the event.

    “Forced into tight formation, body against body, driven by guards, wielding whips on all sides, the solid mass of humanity was forced to run toward the train platforms. Suddenly the commandant ordered the Secret Police to pull back.

    At the head of the line was Korczak! No, how could it be? The scene I shall never forget. In contrast to the mass of humanity being driven like animals to slaughter, there appeared a group of children marching together in formation. They were the orphanage children walking four abreast in line behind Korczak. His eyes were lifted to heaven. Even the military personnel stood still and saluted. When the Germans saw Korczak, they asked, `Who is that man?"



  159. UN calls on Ireland to recognise needs of non Christian children in the education system

    National Secular Society February 4, 2016

    The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticised Ireland in its periodic review, urging the country to protect the rights of non-religious and non-Christian children and families.

    Strong criticism was made of the overwhelming religious control of Ireland's schools, and the Committee said that Ireland must improve access to non-religious schools. 97% of Irish primary schools are denominational schools.

    It said Ireland must "Expeditiously undertake concrete measures to significantly increase the availability of non-denominational or multidenominational schools and to amend the existing legislative framework to eliminate discrimination in school admissions, including the Equal Status Act".

    The report concluded that "Schools continuing to practise discriminatory admissions policies on the basis of the child's religion" and the Committee said it remained "concerned at the very small number of non-denominational schools."

    The Committee also recommended that Ireland "ensure accessible options for children to opt-out of religious classes and access appropriate alternatives to such classes, in accordance with the needs of children of minority faith or non-faith backgrounds."

    In its report, the Committee expressed its concern that "children are not [currently] ensured the right to effectively opt-out of religious classes and access appropriate alternatives to such classes."

    Atheist Ireland, which campaigns for an "ethical, secular state", said their calls for a secular education system had been vindicated by the report.

    The secularist group said that their representatives were "in Geneva in January when the UN Committee was questioning Ireland, and we highlighted the State's attempt to mislead the Committee about the Minister for Education's intentions to change the Equal Status Act."

    Claims that the Irish government were to amend the Equal Status Act were false, Atheist Ireland warned. "Actually, the Minister and the Government have made clear that they will not be amending the Equal Status Act to remove the right of publicly funded religious schools to discriminate against children in access. The Government says they cannot do this without a referendum, as they say they have a constitutional obligation to buttress religious discrimination."


    Also see:

  160. All pupils at non faith schools must study atheism judge rules

    All non-faith schools will be forced to teach non-religious views following a landmark judgment by the High Court that ruled the Education Secretary unlawfully excluded atheism from a new GCSE

    By Javier Espinoza, Education Editor The Telegraph November 25, 2016

    All non-faith schools will be forced to teach non-religious views following a landmark judgment by the High Court that ruled the Education Secretary unlawfully excluded atheism from a new GCSE.

    The decision was met with fierce opposition by religious groups which argued "humanistic ideas already dominate the rest of the curriculum", while teachers warned a slow official response might risk wasting valuable teaching time and resources.

    The ruling was a victory for three families, supported by the British Humanist Association, who claimed Nicky Morgan had taken a "skewed" approach and was failing to reflect in schools the pluralistic nature of the UK.

    Allowing their application for judicial review, Mr Justice Warby, sitting in London, ruled there had been "a breach of the duty to take care that information or knowledge included in the curriculum is conveyed in a pluralistic manner".

    Changes to Religious Studies GCSE subject content were announced last February, leading to complaints over the priority given to religious views - in particular Buddhism, Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. David Wolfe QC, for the three families, told the judge at a recent hearing there was widespread concern "about the Secretary of State's failure to comply with her duty of neutrality and impartiality as between religious and other beliefs".

    Ruling in favour of the humanists, the judge said the Education Secretary "has made an error of law in her interpretation of the education statutes". Following the judgement, the Government is expected to work alongside pressure groups to make sure changes are introduced.

    However, the Department for Education last night insisted the Religious Studies GCSE "ensures pupils understand the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain" by letting pupils choose the study of both religious and non-religious views.

    Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, said: "Humanistic ideas already dominate the rest of the curriculum as it is. Why can't humanists leave RE alone? It's one of the subjects where students are encouraged to think positively about religion.

    Children don't have to learn about maths in history lessons, so why do they have to learn about atheism in religious education?
    Anne Heavey, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the Government needed to provide a swift response on the possible changes of the curriculum or it risked "chaos" in schools.

    She said: "Both the Government and the awarding bodies need to respond fully and quickly to this. Otherwise this will lead to great confusion among teachers. This is likely to waste valuable teaching time."

    A DfE spokesman said: “Our new RS GCSE ensures pupils understand the diversity of religious beliefs in Great Britain through the study of more than one religion, an important part of our drive to tackle segregation and ensure pupils are properly prepared for life in modern Britain.

    “It is also designed to ensure pupils develop knowledge and understanding of both religious and non-religious beliefs.

    “Today’s judgment does not challenge the content or structure of that new GCSE and the judge has been clear it is in no way unlawful. His decision will also not affect the current teaching of the RS GCSE in classrooms.

    “We will carefully consider the judgment before deciding on our next steps.”


  161. Gideons versus Godless

    Abbotsford public schools criticized for distributing bibles

    'It feels like I've gone back to 1942 ... saying no, you can't be handing out bibles in public schools'

    By Karin Larsen, CBC News March 31, 2016

    Abbotsford mother Tara MacRae was a little miffed when both her son and daughter came home from elementary school with a brochure for a Christian basketball program — Athletes in Action — that "encourages players to discover a relationship with Jesus Christ," according to its website.

    "I didn't think it was appropriate because they have bible study as part of the program," said MacRae ."Distributing religious materials in the public school system is not appropriate and I think it contravenes our school act."

    Free bibles

    Last year the Abbotsford school district also sent home a consent form offering a free Gideons bible to all Grade 5 students. As a result, 112 bibles where distributed in Abbotsford public schools.

    MacRae says schools in Abbotsford seem out of step with the rest of the province.

    "We moved here in July from Coquitlam," she said. "I grew up in Vancouver. I'm 39 now and we certainly didn't get handed out bibles. And prayers had stopped long before I entered school. So it feels like I've gone back to 1942. Coming to this district where I have to say, 'no you can't be handing out bibles in our public school system.' It's crazy."

    The B.C. Humanist Association believes it's also unconstitutional, not to mention unfair.

    "We think schools shouldn't be a venue for religious groups to proselytize to children," said Ian Bushfield, executive director of the BCHA. "We'd rather see objective and equal discussion of religion."

    Godless Comics

    The BCHA has sent a letter to Abbotsford school superintendent Kevin Godden asking the district stop distributing religious materials. see: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/bchumanist/pages/517/attachments/original/1458669038/2016-03-21_BCHA_Abbotsford_Gideon_Bible_letter.pdf?1458669038

    Bushfield says if Gideons is allowed to distribute material through the Abbotsford school system, his organization should be granted equal access to hand out a publication called Godless Comics.

    "The comics provide arguments for why some people don't believe in God," stated Bushfield.

    Abbotsford school district communication manager Dave Stephen told CBC News usually he or the superintendent decides what material is handed out in schools. Stephen says the letter from the BCHA "will be reviewed in due course by our district administration."

    "To be clear the only [religious group] who has ever approached the district is Gideons...and they're the only one we've ever engaged with at this level. So it's been, I guess, a legacy arrangement going on for some years in this district."

    "Anybody has the ability to submit materials for distribution," said Stephen. "But now we're going to review the whole question so I'm not sure where we'll land."

    'They didn't answer my question'

    MacRae said she wrote both the Minster of Education and the Abbotsford school district with her concerns. Only the district sent a reply, advising that they would no longer be sending paper material home with students.

    "They didn't answer my question," she said. "The didn't actually respond to whether they agreed or disagreed that distributing religious materials was appropriate."


  162. Jehovah's Witness agrees not to show son religious cartoons because of risk of 'emotional damage'

    Telegraph.co.uk, Telegraph Reporters 11 JUNE 2017

    A Jehovah's Witness has agreed not to show his son religious cartoons and has been banned from taking the six-year-old to some church events because it could cause him "emotional damage".

    The man is embroiled in a family court dispute with his estranged wife and has been barred by a court from taking the little boy to Jehovah's Witness assemblies, annual conventions and memorials.

    District Judge Malcolm Dodds also said that the father had agreed not to show his son "Jehovah's Witness cartoons", a decision he described as "wise".

    The judge said the boy had watched cartoons called Obey Jehovah, Pay Attention At Meetings and One Man One Woman.

    "In 'Obey Jehovah' a child is taught about the sinfulness of having a cartoon character toy with magical powers which the child had to put in a bin," he said.

    "While making sense to a child if both parents were Jehovah's Witnesses, such a cartoon would send a very confusing message to a child like [the boy] who has one foot in his mother's world and a wider world (in which magical characters are everywhere in books, television, DVDs, on the internet and in films) and his other foot in his father's world where such magical characters are sinful.

    "The mother asserts that in her submissions that the objective of the cartoons and Bible stories is to condition and indoctrinate children into Jehovah's Witness beliefs through a mixture of fear, manipulation and a strict boundary between behaviour which is acceptable and pleasing and that which is not.

    "The father accepts that [the boy] should not be exposed to such religious based media until [he] is at least 12."

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  163. The judge concluded that there was a risk of the youngster suffering "emotional damage" if he was taken to to Jehovah's Witness assemblies, annual conventions and memorials.

    He heard that the couple had separated about a year after the man began to study the Jehovah's Witness faith.

    The boy now lived with his mother, who did not practise any religion.

    Judge Dodds said the boy was "impressionable" and might suffer as a result of getting "confusing messages" if he went with his father to certain kinds of Jehovah's Witness gatherings.

    The boy's father had asked the judge to decide how much time he could spend with the boy. He also wanted the boy to be "part of" his religious beliefs.

    The boy's mother had raised concern about the boy being harmed by his father's religious beliefs and had told the judge how her son had once told her "God is good and you are bad".

    Judge Dodds had analysed the dispute at a private family court hearing in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, in May.
    He has revealed detail in a written ruling. The family involved has not been identified.

    Judge Dodds said the man could spend time with the boy and could take him to Sunday services.

    But he said he took a different view about the boy attending "assemblies, annual conventions and memorials".

    The judge said the man had already agreed not to take the boy on "field service" - knocking on doors of people's homes, not to read Bible stories to him and not to show him "religious biased media", including the cartoons.

    "I ... do not wish to restrict him from taking [the boy] to the Kingdom Hall each Sunday for up to two hours," said Judge Dodds.

    "I do not see that this practice of the father's faith for a limited period within a group service with child-friendly activities poses a risk of jeopardy to [the boy's] relationship with his mother."

    The judge added: "I take a different view of assemblies, annual conventions and memorials. These are much longer events."

    He went on: "There is a far greater risk that [the boy] will be influenced ... given his age and how impressionable he is and the risk of emotional damage due to confusing messages.

    "As a result I find it necessary and proportionate to prohibit the father from taking [the boy] to Jehovah's Witness assemblies, annual conventions and memorials."


  164. Mum told to leave harmful and sinister cult or face losing custody of daughter

    BY Alison Kershaw, THE MIRROR, UK 29 APR 2020

    A mother has been told she must make a "definitive break" from a "cult with some potentially harmful and sinister elements" or face losing custody of her daughter.

    The woman's involvement with the cult is a "source of ongoing harm" to the young girl - referred to as Lara to protect her identity, the Court of Appeal has said.

    The youngster, who was born in 2011, is at the centre of a battle between her parents over her living arrangements and her alleged exposure to the teachings of Universal Medicine - which is understood to have been founded in Australia in 1999.

    Her father argues Lara should not be exposed to the group's ideas and should live with him, while her mother does not accept concerns about the organisation and wants a reduction in the time the girl spends with her father.

    Judge James Meston QC, at the Central Family Court, ruled in January that Universal Medicine "is a cult with some potentially harmful and sinister elements".

    He also found evidence put forward by the father "relating to the harmful and potentially harmful influence and effect of Universal Medicine to be compelling".

    Judge Meston noted that material collated by the father shows different food categories according to the group, such as "fiery foods" and "evil foods", and concepts it teaches, including "the hierarchy", "soul impulse purpose" and "esoteric ovary massage."

    Universal Medicine is led by Serge Benhayon, a former bankrupt tennis coach from New South Wales Australia who has no medical qualifications.

    It sells "Esoteric healing" products, music, publications, workshops and courses.

    Judge Meston ruled that a shared-care order made in 2017, which also barred the mother from taking her daughter to Universal Medicine meetings and from imposing its teaching on her, should stand.

    For it to do so however, the mother should "give formal, clear and specific undertakings" to the court that she would disassociate herself and her child from Universal Medicine and its specific practices.

    The father appealed the judge's decision and took his case to the Court of Appeal.

    In a ruling published on Wednesday, three senior judges allowed the appeal, saying the girl "must be distanced entirely from Universal Medicine".

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  165. Lord Justice Peter Jackson sitting with Lord Justice McCombe and Lady Justice King, said: "Shared care can therefore only continue if the mother makes an immediate and definitive break from the organisation.

    "Otherwise Lara should move to live with her father."

    He also said that the youngster's wishes and feelings are known - she loves both her parents and wants them to get on with each other.

    When asked, she "opposes having more time with her father and she deals with her situation by gravitating towards having less", the judge said.

    He added: "However, she has no way of understanding that a very significant contributor to this process, if it is not indeed its cause, is the mother's adherence to Universal Medicine.

    "It is a pervasive source of ongoing harm to Lara, emotionally and psychologically, and may make her vulnerable to eating disorders.

    "We consider that unless decisive counter-measures are taken the influence of the belief system and the distancing of Lara from her father are likely to become entrenched as she grows older.

    "We do not overlook the fact that she has two loving parents who are capable of meeting all her needs but for (and it is a big but) the dynamic that has increasingly characterised the mother's approach.

    "She now approaches the arrangements for Lara on the basis that she knows best and that the father is someone from whom Lara is to be protected.

    "She views Universal Medicine as a vital and benign entity. She has not begun to understand the substance of the judge's findings and the concerns expressed by others. That is how cults work."

    The judges postponed making a final decision on the father's application and sent the case back to the Family Division, saying by determining the matter in this way, they were giving the mother "a very short respite during which she will have one last chance to take her own steps to leave Universal Medicine, start intensive therapy, and reverse the process of alienation of Lara from her father".


  166. Fundamentalist Baptist father told not to teach hateful beliefs to children

    by Jason Proctor, CBC News Apr 29, 2020

    A B.C. judge says a fundamentalist Baptist father who believes homosexuals should be executed shouldn't have any say in the religious upbringing of his children.

    Chilliwack Provincial Court Judge Kristen Mundstock made it clear she didn't want to limit the religious freedom of the father, who is known in court documents as JKH.

    But she said she feared his three young children — who live with their mother, AJH — would become social outcasts if they adopted their father's extreme views.

    "J believes the Bible directs him to teach the word of God to his children. In other words, J will teach his children that homosexuals should be put to death," Mundstock wrote in a decision released last week.

    "If J is at liberty to teach the children his religious views, I am concerned the children will not be able to get along with people they must interact with on a daily basis."

    "He acknowledges he has hateful beliefs but he says they are based on good faith," Mundstock wrote. "He states there are certain people that God commands us to hate."

    Online videos of hateful U.S. preachers
    The case highlights one of the most contentious problems judges face in balancing the rights of parents with the interests of their children when it comes to child custody.

    "The issue of religious freedom and how the kids should be raised through what religion or whether they should not be raised with any religion at all is one of the most disputed, hotly contested issues when it comes to custody," said Leena Yousefi, a Vancouver-area family lawyer.

    "Religion is obviously extremely close to the religious person's heart, and they truly believe that that's the way to go to heaven or be on the good side of God, and that's how kids should be raised."

    Yousefi, who was not involved in the battle between JKH and AJH, said parents who remain together are free to raise their children however they want. But it's different for parents who split up.

    Precedent that goes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada has led judges to place what they consider to be the best interests of children over what some parents may claim as an absolute right.

    The B.C. case portrays a marriage riven by religious discord.

    JKH and AJH separated in October 2018.

    The father's parenting time is limited to two hours per week on Monday afternoons at a McDonald's Play Place in the Fraser Valley while AJH sits elsewhere.

    JKH asked the court for the ability to bring the children to his home, while the mother asked Mundstock to order that she be given sole responsibility for the religious and spiritual upbringing of the children, aged two, four and five.

    Both parents are practicing Christians. AJH said their relationship fell apart when JKH started watching online videos of two American religious leaders known for extreme and hateful views on abortion, homosexuality and the Holocaust.

    Pastor Roger Jimenez gained international notoriety in 2016 after he praised the fatal shooting of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida.

    Reverend Steven Anderson has been denied entry to several countries — including, he says, Canada — because of sermons calling for the execution of homosexuals.

    AJH claimed that JKH asked her to watch their videos, but "she found [the] teachings to be hateful."

    'But that's, that's Bible'
    JKH, who calls himself a fundamentalist Baptist and attends a church in Surrey, says he believes "what is written in the Bible is the truth."

    "He states the beliefs espoused in his church are similar to those of Reverend Anderson and Pastor Jiminez but that his church exhibits more tact," the judge wrote.

    "He states his church does not believe in promoting violence."

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  167. JKH also has some very rigid beliefs about women, who he says are not "lesser" but are subject to the authority of their husbands and shouldn't speak or teach in church.

    "He described other Christians as selling out," Mundstock wrote.

    "J wants to teach his children his views of the Bible so they can thrive by having the same firm foundation and stability. He believes A's religious instruction is harmful to the children and not in their best interests."

    The father claimed his ex-partner's bid to limit his participation in the religious upbringing of his children was an attack on his right to religious freedom.

    But the judge rejected that argument, saying that as an adult, JKH was free to practise his beliefs.

    "My only concern is for the best interests of the children," she said.

    And she said it was clear from his direct testimony that his uncompromising views place him at odds with most people.

    "It says [homosexuals] are brute beasts, meaning dumb animals, which is extremely offensive," JKH testified at one point. "But that's, that's Bible."

    The Supreme Court of Canada weighed in on religion and child custody in 1993 with a battle between a mother who wanted her children raised in the United Church and a father who was ordered not to discuss his Jehovah's Witness faith with his children or to take them to meetings.

    The judges said the courts weren't there to adjudicate a "war of religion" between parents of different faiths.

    "Rather, it is the manner in which such beliefs are practised together with the impact and effect they have on the child which must be considered," the Supreme Court decision says.

    "In all cases where the effects of religious practices are at issue, the best interests of the child must prevail."

    Practically speaking, Yousefi says that means courts usually tend to lean toward the more secular parent.

    "In a way, the [Supreme Court] said that it would be limiting to contain the children in a certain religion when the other parent is not adhering to it," she said.

    AJH told the court she believes that not all parts of the Bible are still relevant today.

    She feels society is more diverse and said she doesn't want her ex-partner to teach the children to hate homosexuals.

    The judge agreed that it would be confusing to the children to be taught views from their father that are "diametrically opposed" to the views of their primary caregiver.

    "The children are vulnerable and unable, at their young ages, to discern what is true and what is false," Mundstock wrote.

    "They are also unable to weigh and balance what they are taught by one parent as opposed to the other on such advanced notions of morality and spirituality."

    Both parents were self-represented.

    In cases involving lawyers, Yousefi said the court might be inclined to issue an order for the father to refrain from discussing the specifics of his beliefs.

    As it is, Mundstock ordered both parties to put the best interests of the children ahead of their own and to refrain from any "negative or hostile criticism, communication or argument in front of the children.

    The father's uncompromising nature also led the judge to reject his application to have the children at his house during his parenting time. JKH admitted that he wouldn't comply with an order prohibiting him from teaching his children the Bible even if the judge made one.

    "I conclude J has chosen to live his life according to his fundamentalist views and there is no room for compromise, even if this means his parenting time will be once a week outside of his home," Mundstock wrote.

    The COVID-19 pandemic means the McDonald's Play Place where the visits happen is now closed.

    The judge left it to the parents to decide what is best for the children in the meantime.