While the next executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party tells me that Democrats need to embrace God and guns, pollster Paul Nielson tells Todd Epp that we Democrats lost the Catholic vote this time out:

“If you’re evangelical Christian, you’ll almost certainly vote Republican,” Nielson said. “A mainline Protestant, probably a little more Republican than Democrat. Roman Catholic has tended to be more Democratic, but actually in this election, they went more Republican, according to our polling, toward the end, which was a really bad sign for Democrat[s]” [Todd Epp, "In South Dakota, Is Religion Electoral Destiny?" Northern Plains News, 2014.11.16].

Who's left for us Dems?

For Democrats, according to Nielson, about the only clear constituencies they won in this month’s election were reservation-based Native Americans and non-religiously affiliated voters [Epp, 2014.11.16].

Atheists and Indians—I think we're still outnumbered, Sundance!

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Mike Huether has waded into the snowplows-for-Jesus debate; I guess I have to, too.

The City of Sioux Falls let some school kids paint their snowplows. Naturally, some Lutheran kids painted happy Jesus messages (along with one improperly cited Bible verse). The Siouxland Freethinkers suggested religious messages on public equipment is inappropriate. The city lawyers said, "Ah, you may have a point" and asked the kids to repaint the plows.

Then Mayor Mike Huether comes barreling in for some wrongheaded grandstanding:

"I don't want to repaint over those snowplows," Huether said. "To me, we should repaint over all of them at the same time and that's at the end of the snow season."

Huether told me that he hoped to bring together the schools, the Siouxland Freethinkers and city officials to find a compromise.

But Huether seemed adamant that the plow blades wouldn't be removed.

"We are not going to be painting over those plow blades. We will not be painting over them unless I get some Supreme Court case that says that I have to," Huether said.

Heuther is also reluctant to suggest changes to the "Paint the Plows" program for fear of trampling on the First Amendment rights of participating schools.

"That's one of the things we're struggling with," said Huether. "How do we move forward and still allow people to have freedom of expression?" [Greg Belfrage, "Huether: 'We Are Not Painting Over Plow Blades'," KELO-AM Radio, 2014.10.28]

Mayor Huether, we are not talking about First Amendment rights of participating schools. No one has a right to paint messages on public equipment... although if that's what you're positing, don't let Ryan Gaddy and Annette Bosworth near City Hall. The city invites schools to decorate snowplows. The city has complete control of the forum and the content participants post, just as it asserts control over what people can say and when they can say it at City Council meetings. The city has an obligation (which it failed to fulfill in this case) to establish and explain clear criteria for the use of the privilege of decorating snowplows.

Imagine if some smart kids had painted "Vote for Rick Weiland" or "Hillary 2016" on the plows. The city would have shut that noise down right away. We have laws restricting the use of public resources for such politicking.

Better yet, imagine if some Muslim kids painted "Allahu Akbar!" on a plow. Let Greg Belfrage see that holy cry bearing down on him in his rearview mirror, and he'll get why some of us would prefer the city not be toting giant Jesus messages around on its equipment.

Mayor Huether, the city messed up. Instead of acting like Mike Rounds, how about 'fessing up to your error, owning the problem, and saying you'll do better at teaching kids about the First Amendment in full next time around?

201 comments

Photographer and freethinker Jered Dawnne of Sioux Falls started the Thinking Unenslaved podcast in 2010. He took a break in 2011 after 22 episodes. Tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 29, he's back, relaunching what he hopes will be a fascinating series of conversations:

Thinking Unenslaved is a weekly podcast from the perspective of a secular humanist living and working among the people of the Northern Midwestern United States. The intent of the show is to foster dialogue to bring an understanding of the need and purpose of humanistic and secular concepts into the mainstream for a better world. Naturally, political and sociological concerns are the primary focus of the show, but subject matter also delves into religion, agnosticism, atheism and related topics from time to time. Frequent participants on the show come from all walks of life, so every episode is a unique experience [Jered Dawnne, personal communication, 2014.10.27].

Dialogue, understanding, secular concepts, political and sociological concerns... hey! Sounds like my kind of program! So much so that Dawnne is inviting me to join him for a segment of tomorrow night's two-hour show. Thinking Unenslaved runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Jered plans to have me on right after the big KELO Senate debate, which is supposed to wrap up at 8 p.m.

Dawnne will also chat program sponsor and Siouxland Freethinkers member Josh Tordsen, as well as high-powered Democratic consultant turned Sioux Falls kaffeemeister Steve Hildebrand.

If technology cooperates, you can listen live on http://unenslaved.com/live-show/. If you want a wilder more interactive experience, you can tune in via http://mixlr.com/thinking-unenslaved. that site will have a chat room! But if you find yourself too drowsy after playing the Mike Rounds "South Dakota Common Sense!" drinking game during the KELO debate, you'll be able to download the podcast to cure your hangover in the morning. Live or recorded, you should find Dawnne's conversations great fun!

48 comments

Religion alert—Rep. Hickey got me in the Jesus swing!

Sioux Falls author Dianna Anderson published this August 29 blog post before Victoria Osteen confessed her secular hedonism dressed up as Christianity. But Anderson's critique of American evangelical Christianity's claim to subversive minority status seems relevant to Osteen's prosperity gospel and other robed delusions:

...[B]elieving in American evangelical Christianity is one of the least subversive things that exists. And that’s because American evangelical Christianity exists to maintain a status quo of current power structures....

We’ve been fed this falsehood about what subversion is in American evangelicalism. We worship a Christ in our own image – a European, cisgender, heterosexual Christ who is more interested in making sure you don’t have to provide your employees with birth control than with whether or not you just made someone homeless by firing them because they’re gay [Dianna Anderson, "Queering Theology: Subversion and Grace," blog, 2014.08.29].

As a Midwestern atheist, I have regularly chortled at the persecution complex feigned by certain Christians. Anderson contends that persecution complex is a survival strategy... or maybe just marketing:

...[W]ithout thinking they are in the minority, American evangelicalism would not have nearly the fervor and tribalism they exhibit now [Anderson, 2014.08.29].

Dang, if that's the effect perceiving oneself as an endangered, countercultural minority has, where's all the fervor and tribalism among my fellow South Dakota Democrats?

42 comments

Of all the things I could be reading, Pastor Steve Hickey gets me to read the loathsome wingnut screed World Net Daily and cite it as reporting accurately and authoritatively on the most honest theological statement ever made by someone named Osteen:

Victoria Osteen, wife of megachurch minister Joel Osteen... addressing the church’s large congregation as her husband stood by nodding his head in agreement, said, “I just want to encourage everyone of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.

“So I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?" ["Did Joel Osteen's Wife Commit Blasphemy?" WND.com, 2014.08.30]

I call Mrs. Osteen's statement "honest" because it reveals what her and her husband's prosperity gospel is really about... and it reveals how thoroughly un-Christian that gospel is. WND.com gets a pastor to explain how Mrs. Osteen is putting pious lipstick on a secular hedonist pig; I prefer the response of our own Shad Olson:

The American pursuit of happiness and seeking first the Kindgom of God have nothing to do with one another. The Osteen's prosperity gospel and most of the megachurch sludge that presages it are apostate heresy. If only the early christian church had realized that God wanted them to have fake breasts and BMW"s....they would have been so much happier in their faith, what with all the nasty starvation and beheadings and crucifixions and what not [Shad Olson, Facebook comment, 2014.09.01].

Megachurch sludgeNewsCenter1 needs to let Shad use language like that on TV more often.

I don't do church. But even as I peek through the left-field knothole from my box in Atheist Alley, I can tell that Victoria Osteen is pitching something other than Christianity. Watch her say the words herself:

Such self-centeredness is necessary for the Osteens. Neither is an ordained (read: real) pastor. Neither has submitted to the vetting of a theological school. Neither has chosen to serve a denomination where congregations would call them; they instead establish a ministry around themselves and call the congregation to come to them. Victoria and Joel Osteen can justify calling themselves "pastors" only by convincing themselves that doing things for themselves rather than for others is fine by Jesus.

If you want an entirely self-centered worldview, secular hedonism comes with far fewer strings attached. But if you want to make money off your worldview, well, Victoria and Joel will tell you the same thing Chad and Annette will tell you: there's money to be made off Christian guilt.

40 comments

Last week we discussed Dell Rapids coach and Augie grad Nathan Alfson's announcement that he is gay. This week we get the news that his announcement will not cost him his job. Catholic school Dell Rapids St. Mary's will continue to employ Alfson as their girls volleyball coach.

The Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese says we shouldn't be surprised that a Catholic school would allow an openly gay man to remain on the payroll. And indeed, we should not be: in  a perfect world, no employer would inquire into the private, personal activities of its employees. No religious employer would dither over the various sins of their employees that do not affect the employees' ability to perform their jobs.

And even if there are some Christians who maintain that homosexuality is a sin, we should not expect it to be news that Christian institutions employ people who sin. As I understand theology, everyone who works for a Christian institution sins (even the Pope!). If we go around firing sinners, we're going to have a severe labor shortage.

Let us hope that the best public outcome of the news about Nathan Alfson is that someday, similar announcements of love and employment will not be news.

247 comments

I told the Miller School District in May that their decision to allow the Gideons to distribute Bibles to fifth graders was unconstitutional. And the Miller School District listened!

Actually, they listened to the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent the Miller School District a complaint outlining the obvious church-state-separation problem of a public school letting religious groups proselytize on campus. Last month, the school board reversed its Bible-distribution policy and told the Gideons and other converters to hand out their tracts elsewhere.

This reversal is a small but instructive victory for us liberals trying to bring secular sanity to South Dakota. The Miller board president's comments on the reversal explain why:

"It's been through the court system and everything. We've got to follow the letter of the law," said board president Tim Zacher.

The reversal came after the ACLU sent a letter to the Miller School District in May saying the school was on "shaky constitutional ground" by allowing religious literature to be distributed in a public school.

...Zacher said he was disappointed the board was forced to change its policy and disallow the Bible distribution.

"Our founding fathers felt God very strong in this country," he said.

The Bibles had been distributed in previous years at Miller, though Zacher didn't know for how long.

"We had never had a bit of problem with it before," he said. "I guess that's the way it is" [David Montgomery, "Miller School Board Reverses Policy Allowing Handout of Bibles," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.07.30].

Never had problem before... there's a key phrase. We may think that conservative Republican fundagelicanism is just entrenched in South Dakota culture and institutions. But Miller shows that bad policy may be less entrenched and simply unchallenged. As long as there's not a problem, nothing happens. But create a problem, or even warn there could be a problem, and local leaders may surrender. The ACLU didn't have to lawyer up; they just wrote a letter, showed the Miller school board that the Constitution was not on their side, and got the proper result.

That's why, instead of retreating to Minnesota and other saner political spheres, I keep encouraging my fellow South Dakota liberals, atheists, and other lovers of freedom to stand up and fight. Not every school board or city council will surrender before superior logic and law. But many will, preferring to avoid conflict and headlines. If we challenge every instance of local theocracy and other oppression, and if only 25% of the boards we challenge give in without a fight, those few easy victories give us that much more precedent for fighting hard against the remaining 75% to get liberty and justice for all... including liberty for our fifth-graders from Gideons, jihadis, Satanists, and atheists who may try to co-opt school grounds to advance or denigrate specific religions.

*   *   *

Under the Constitution schools cannot intentionally, or unintentionally, advance religion or become too entangled with religious groups. The courts have repeatedly said that schools must also avoid favoring or appearing to favor a religious view, and they may not create any situation in which students feel coerced to participate in religion. These constitutional protections ensure that students can find and follow their own faith with the guidance of their family and religious leaders, free from government intrusion [ACLU, press release, 2014.05.12].

249 comments

Uh oh—Satanists.

Like many observers, Tim Gebhart wrote in June that the Hobby Lobby decision opens the door to exemptions from law for members of all sorts of religious sects on the basis of religious claims that the Hobby Lobby declared off limits to judicial inquiry.

I'm still waiting for our Lakota neighbors to head for their Hills with this precedent. But with an apt "I told you so," Gebhart this week gets to point to the Satanists, who are making a religious claim to an exemption from informed consent laws imposed on women seeking abortions in places like South Dakota:

The Satanic Temple... is specifically invoking Hobby Lobby for exemptions from state-mandated “informational” materials used as a part of informed consent.  It says it believes “the body is inviolable – subject to one’s own will alone” and the belief “is fundamental to our religious philosophy.”  It reasons that requiring women to receive “biased or false” information that is based on politics and not science is an “affront” to that belief [Tim Gebhart, "Not to Say I Told You So, But...," A Progressive on the Prairie, 2014.07.31].

How does a woman get out of the propaganda to which South Dakota law subjects her if she wants an abortion? She just hands this letter to her doctor, and poof! the Roberts-Alito court should excuse her from Leslee Unruh's fact-free sermons and South Dakota's insulting 72-hour waiting period.

Unfortunately, along with declaring sincere religious belief in inviolable bodily autonomy and supremacy of one's own scientific conclusions over state-mandated propaganda, the letter also declares one's adherence "to the principles of the Satanic Temple."

Great, just what Leslee Unruh, Gordon Howie, and Ted Cruz are hoping for: women seeking abortions to put in writing that they worship the Devil.

10 comments

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