Saturday, July 31, 2010

Victory for Academic Freedom

He's just so pleased to hear the news.
Hey gang, it's been a while. As you know, AAF has been an ardent opponent against the decision to dismiss Ken Howell, the Catholic professor and friend of the program, so to speak. We were quick to spring to his defense, as he has been a valuable contact and generally a stand-up kind of guy. Now obviously we differ on fundamental grounds with some of the opinions the man has expressed, but we have always felt that freedom of expression, especially in the academic setting, is important. That is why we are pleased to see that Dr. Howell has been offered his job back.

It's good to know that public opinion can actually make a difference sometimes.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Neil deGrasse Tyson, New Atheism's Reluctant Conscript

Carl Sagan would be proud of his spiritual successor, Mr Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson has reignited popular interest in astronomy unseen since Cosmos, with an effusive enthusiasm and boyish sense of wonderment. He is a tireless promoter of astronomy, science and skepticism. Like Sagan, he has often avoided direct criticism of religious ideas. Who can blame them? Why be a salesman when you can be a scientist? Why do politics if you can share your passion for knowledge with people? Science can be pure and beautiful but evangelism of whatever sort is usually a shady, cynical, tactical game. Sooner or later though, you just don't have a choice. If you do science, the theists will eventually be at your door, torches in hand, to lay it to waste. In the above video clip from The Amaz!ng Meeting Tyson emphatically describes his disinterest in sparring with religion, and how he was forced to do so. I feel your pain, sir. I wish we did not have to be salesmen and politicians, but we do.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Christian who sought state money for hideous cross accused of child rape

"It's not my fault, she said she was 18, and also a boy"

The pastor Rev. Bill Vandergraph earlier this year secured a $20,000 grant in Illinois state funding to restore a rusting 10-story eyesore. Perhaps unsatisfied with merely assaulting the Constitution, he now stands accused of raping a 4 year old girl, according to police charges. 

This latest example of Biblical morality molding the faithful into Good Christian (tm) citizens hardly has any impact these days. One is nostalgic for a time when this story would be shocking or at least surprising. Now it is all but expected. I take no pleasure in it. I'm not even going to make a "Friends of the Bald Knob" (as the Christian group actually calls itself) joke. You can read a detailed account of the Bald Knob co.'s exploits at Rob Sherman's news/blog site here or here at the Daily Herald

The god-fearing dwellers of the small southern Illinois town wanted a monument and they have succeeded. Alto Pass is a true monument to hypocrisy, corruption, and malevolence that slakes its thirst with the blood of children.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why We Hate on "Hate Speech" (and you should too)

"I am in no way a gay rights activist, but allowing this hate speech at a public university is entirely unacceptable. It sickens me to know that hard-working Illinoisans are funding the salary of a man who does nothing but try to indoctrinate students and perpetuate stereotypes." 
The brave words of an anonymous person who never met Dr. Kenneth Howell and never attempted to do so. AAF knows a thing or two about hate speech allegations. Some individuals tried to have us removed from the quad for our Good Friday protest, calling it hate speech. What exactly is hate speech? According to wiki, "In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group". I have a shorter definition. Hate speech is thought crime. Thought crime, is bullshit.

The legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions. -Thomas Jefferson
How do I know it's thought crime? The action part, what you actually say, is irrelevant. In accepted limits on free speech the content is always critical: slander has to be willful deception (content must be factually incorrect); incitement has to (under reasonable assumptions) lead to violence. Now consider the following two remarks:

White men are the cause of many atrocities and should be removed from power.
Jews are the cause of many atrocities and should be removed from power.

Both of these are at best, debatable and inflammatory but only one of them would roundly be called a hate crime. Why? The content of each is the same. The latter is a hate crime for no reason but that the speaker has the incorrect belief or feeling about the target. Hate against white men, not a protected group, is perfectly legal and acceptable. This leads to the second problem: egalitarianism.

Playing Fair
By definition hate speech laws (or just the idea of hate speech) requires the specification of protected groups. In short, it means some groups get special rights and protections.You may object that we should protect minorities from discrimination. We do. There are already anti-discrimination laws. No reasonable person could agree that "disparagement" is commensurate with unlawful discrimination. This would mean some groups have the de facto right not to be insulted. Further, who gets the power of deciding whose opinions alone get to be criminalized? For most of our history the answer to that question has been very clear: god and his friends. Thou shalt not covet has become thou shalt not dislike! The hymn is sung by secular authorities instead but the melody is the same. 

The Con Game
Proponents of hate speech dictates have a powerful enemy: the US Constitution. In the 80's and 90's many colleges adopted broad speech codes. Many were struck down as too vague or incongruous with the first amendment. As a result many schools rebranded their policies as "anti-harassment" or "inclusivity". It largely remains to be seen how the newer policies will fare but there is good reason to think they will also fail legal standards. In 1992 the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the hate speech conviction of a youth that burned a cross on the lawn of a black family. If cross-burning isn't hate speech, what chance do you think there is that teaching catholic dogma in a Catholic dogma class is?

Changing the Channel
I know that most people who support policies like "inclusiveness" are good, well-meaning people. They seek an effective antidote to racism, sexism, and other nasty isms. I do too. The problem is they take the seductive, facile path of hey just make it illegal! Perhaps they don't realize they've made a terrible mistake, giving governments the awesome power to choose what beliefs are acceptable. No government or person should ever have such power which is virtually guaranteed to immediately corrupt leaders and be misused against the innocent. The founding fathers knew this and spoke at length-

While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others... - George Washington

The way you fight primitive ideas and genuine intolerance is with social, intellectual, and political (but not legal) ostracism. You protest, op-ed, argue and appeal. You educate and elucidate. Yes it is hard, harder than outlawing   your opponents thoughts but it does work and- bonus- doesn't create a repressive fascist society. You can't legislate away dumb. You can't outlaw ignorance. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Campus Free Speech Under Fire: UI Fires Religious Studies Professor for Teaching Religion

AAF has at times railed hard against the Catholic Church. We find its teachings offend the intellect, reinforce an antiquated dictatorship, and harm society's most vulnerable souls. We have little common ground with Dr. Kenneth Howell , who has taught classes on Catholic thought at the University of Illinois for 12 years. He has been fired for discussing the church's moral consideration on homosexuality:

This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. (read full email here)
Even setting aside the daft notion men and women can possibly be construed as psychologically "complementary" which no person who has dated would agree with, this line of thought is painfully anemic. Spreading such ideas could be unethical, even dangerous, but that is his job. He taught Intro to Catholicism, not Howell's Guide to Social Engineering. Dr. Ken made a big mistake: he tread upon the secular catechism with his religious catechism. He said Catholics think homosexual acts are wrong. Evidently you have to preach liberal dogma even in a religious studies class. 

Full disclosure: Dr. Howell is in my reckoning, a friend and ally of AAF. It is thanks to him we were able to put on a major debate last spring and hoped to do the same in the coming year. In spite of all our differences Dr. Howell and AAF are both committed to the open and free discussion of all topics of merit. We are equally committed to freedom of speech and to the virtue of public debate. We each see the university has a special place a nation should set aside for the free exchange of all ideas- offensive to some or otherwise. A campus is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, not an exercise in authoritarian squelching of unpopular voices. 

What is happening here is not an isolated incident. This is the same university which only a couple years ago fired two editors of its supposedly protected free-speech paper after they reprinted cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. This is the same school that only months ago accused AAF of intolerance for protesting Islamic extremism. This is not just about the fate of Dr. Howell, but the degree to which we will allow any one ideology to control what we can say. What's happening here, now is wrong. It is not too late. You can make a difference right now by emailing our chancellor and telling him just what you think of all this. Chancellor Robert A. Easter: . Other officials you may with to contact:

President of the University of Illinois:

Office of President Michael J. Hogan
364 Henry Administration Building, MC-346
506 S Wright Street
Urbana, IL 61801-3649


Office of President Michael J. Hogan
414 Administrative Office Building, MC-760
1737 W Polk Street
Chicago, IL 60612-7224

Head of the Department of Religion:

Professor Robert J. McKim
Department of Religion
3080 Foreign Languages Building, MC-166
707 S Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801-3643

Chaplain and Director of St. John's Catholic Newman Center:

The Reverend Monsignor Gregory Ketcham
604 E Armory Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820-6286

Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria:

The Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C
Spalding Pastoral Center
419 NE Madison Avenue
Peoria, IL 61603-3719

Read the Full story in the News-Gazette