Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Good News and Old News

U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman struck down Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional on Friday. I was busy all weekend with a work project and missed the news. But that's not the old news.

The old news is that the Religious Right will now be losing its collective mind once again.

Of particular interest here is that the trial in the case was the first time that Mark Regnerus, a sociologist at the University of Texas and the Religious Right's darling, had testified about his infamous "study" that supposedly showed (but did nothing of the sort) that children do better in families headed by opposite-sex parents than in those of same-sex parents.

Regnerus got absolutely smoked on cross examination.

Among other things:
~ Regnerus' admitted that he deliberately structured his study to compare children whose parents had a same-sex relationship with those who grew up in opposite-sex households undisturbed by separation or divorce;

~ Regnerus conceded that more than half of the respondents he classified as children of "gay dads" or "lesbian moms" were the offspring of failed heterosexual marriages, and that only two of the 3,000 respondents he interviewed had been raised by same-sex partners who remained together throughout their childhoods. And those two, like their peers in stable opposite-sex families "looked pretty good" in his study's measures of adult outcomes;

~ To add insult to injury (to whatever is left of Regnerus' reputation) his department at UT released a statement on the day he testified distancing themselves from his "study" and his personal views about same-sex marriage. When asked about that on cross examination, he said: "It's regrettable, I guess they just want to distance themselves from me." No wonder!
I have described Al Mohler as a marginally saner wingnut (he has admitted that the fight against same-sex marriage is lost) but the margin has all but disappeared this time. He says:
Judge Friedman, citing evidence that the study had been commissioned and paid for by conservative opponents of same-sex marriage, wrote, "The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged."

That is judicial slander pure and simple. I happen to know Mark Regnerus and I know the quality of his work, and I happen to know that this kind of accusation made in a judge's opinion like this really isn't a scientific statement about which, by the way, the judge is incompetent to rule.

Rather it is a political statement and it is intended to be the kind of political statement that, as Eckholm recognizes, will reverberate in other court decisions as well.
First of all, it is not "judicial slander" of any sort. Cases involving constitutional violations are bench trials, meaning that the judge is the jury. Fact finders are not only allowed but required to examine the motives of witnesses and determine their credibility based on the evidence presented. Let's look at some of that, as related by Judge Friedman:
The Court finds Regnerus's testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 "study" was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it "essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society" and which "was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study." In the funder's view, "the future of the institution of marriage at this moment is very uncertain" and "proper research" was needed to counter the many studies showing no differences in child outcomes. Id. The funder also stated that "this is a project where time is of the essence." Id. Time was of the essence at the time of the funder's comments in April 2011, and when Dr. Regnerus published the NFSS in 2012, because decisions such as Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Windsor v. United States were threatening the funder's concept of "the institution of marriage."

While Regnerus maintained that the funding source did not affect his impartiality as a researcher, the Court finds this testimony unbelievable. The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged. Additionally, the NFSS is flawed on its face, as it purported to study "a large, random sample of American young adults (ages 18-39) who were raised in different types of family arrangements" (emphasis added), but in fact it did not study this at all, as Regnerus equated being raised by a same-sex couple with having ever lived with a parent who had a "romantic relationship with someone of the same sex" for any length of time. Whatever Regnerus may have found in this "study," he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples. It is no wonder that the NFSS has been widely and severely criticized by other scholars, and that Regnerus's own sociology department at the University of Texas has distanced itself from the NFSS in particular and Dr. Regnerus's views in general and reaffirmed the aforementioned APA position statement.
In other words, Judge Friedman judged him the way any fact finder in court would ... he looked to his motives and actions and found those didn't match his testimony.

As to Judge Friedman being "incompetent to rule" on the quality of Regnerus' work, Mohler has no problem pronouncing on that subject, though he gives none of his qualifications to do so. On the other hand, the judge's only duty is to rule on the credibility of Regnerus' work in the scientific community, which determines if it is admissible in court as a support for the state's position. He had the benefit of the testimony of the plaintiff's expert's on that issue and it is no small matter that the American Psychological Association and Regnerus' own department at UT has disowned the "study."

Thus the judge has done nothing that any jury doesn't do ... he listened to the evidence presented in court and made a judgment based on it. Is Mohler against our court system?

Friday, March 21, 2014


Up Close and Personal With the "Designer"

This is precious!

The Discovery Institute has been furiously denying that, in the course of its attacks on Ball State University for jettisoning a course that was, apparently, claiming that Intelligent Design Creationism is scientific, that John West, Vice President and Senior Fellow of the DI, admitted that ID is, in fact, a religious belief. You can go to the links and decide for yourself how successful their denials are.

But, thanks to The Sensuous Curmudgeon, we now have it, straight from one end of the horse or the other ... Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC) and "a founder both of the intelligent design (ID) movement and of the CSC" ... in an article in the Christian Post entitled: "Big Bang 'Gravity Wave' Discovery Supports Biblical Creation, Say Old Earth Creationists." The article is about the discovery of gravity waves announced earlier this week by scientists at the South Pole telescope called BICEP 2. Young-Earth Creationists are uncomfortable with the result but those "old-Earth Creationists" aren't.

Who should show up amongst the OECs but none other than Meyer!

In a horrible accident, beans were spilled everywhere:
Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at The Discovery Institute and author of the New York Times best-seller Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, told CP on Tuesday that he also believes "the big bang theory supports a biblical understanding of creation."

"If you look at scientific history, the theory that persisted before the big bang was the steady state theory of the universe, which fits well with Carl Sagan's famous line: 'The universe is all that ever was, all that is, and all that ever will be,'" Meyer said. By suggesting a concrete beginning, the big bang hints toward creation, rather than the eternal universe, as proposed by Sagan and presented in the new series, "The Cosmos."

Meyer even suggests that the recent evidence for inflation supports the scriptural depiction of an expanding universe.

"We find repeated in the Old Testament, both in the prophets and the Psalms, that God is stretching or has stretched out the heavens," he noted, suggesting that there are "at least a dozen references" to this idea in Scripture.

"Space expanded very rapidly, and this is additional evidence supporting that inflation," he said, referring to the study. ...

Meyer's [sic] also pointed to three large scientific discoveries in the past century that supports the biblical account for creation: the big bang, which says, "the universe had a beginning;" "the anthropic fine-tuning of the universe," which claims the rules of matter work in a way best suited for human life; and evidence of the information-bearing properties of DNA that the basic building blocks of life have a sort of knowledge.

He also commented on his article, "The Return of the God Hypothesis," which he said explains that only theism, not deism, pantheism or materialism, can account for these new discoveries.

Meyer reiterated his belief that Christians must use the best available scientific evidence and the best available understanding of the Bible and reconcile the two.
Only theism, not deism, pantheism or materialism, can account for these new discoveries? But what about aliens? Oh, right! He was lying about that for constitutional reasons!

But don't forget, folks, ID has nothing to do with religion ... because the DI has told us so!

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Sunday, March 16, 2014


The Rape of the Sabines

According to legend, shortly after founding Rome, Romulus and his followers, who were seriously short on females, set up a ruse to "rape" (abduct) the women of a nearby tribe call the Sabines. After some unpleasantness, cooler heads prevailed and the Sabines joined with Romulus and became Romans.

It's not quite as bad ... or as good ... as the situation recently in Sabine Parish, Louisiana.

You may remember this story. It had all the usual elements: Jesus "portraits" popping up everywhere in halls and graduation ceremonies, a marque that flashed Bible passages, a science teacher including "ISN'T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ HAS MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, where the only "right" answer was "Lord Jesus," and so on.

But the most egregious aspect was the same teacher joining in bullying a student, right in class, because he is a Buddhist. And, when the parents went to complain to the school superintendent, they were told that "this is the Bible Belt," and that that they should simply tolerate [the teacher's] proselytization because "[t]eachers have religious freedom." The superintendent went on to wonder whether the child "has to be raised Buddhist" and even asked whether he could "change" his faith.

Back a couple of months ago when I first ran across this, I predicted one of two outcomes. One, the district's insurance carrier would force a quick settlement, with all costs paid by the insurer. Or, two, the school board, probably seduced by some faux legal foundation, such as "Liberty Counsel," would put up a fight, still lose, and wind up having to pay costs out of the taxpayer money that should go to the kids' education because the insurance company disclaimed.

Fortunately for the young people of Sabine Parish, the first scenario seems to have prevailed.

A settlement and consent decree has been entered in the Federal District Court case that is, to say the least, sweeping. While, the school board, school superintendent and the awful teacher admit no wrongdoing the list of things they can no longer do is extensive and telling. Among the highlights:
~ School Officials shall neither offer nor participate in a Prayer during or in conjunction with a School Event.

~ School Officials shall prohibit non-student third parties (including, but not limited to, clergy or other religious leaders) [from offering prayers at school events].

~ No Religious Service commemorating the graduation or grade-promotion of a class of students shall be comprised, led, or directed by School Officials in their Official Capacity.

~ The District and School Board are permanently enjoined from permitting School Officials at any school within the School District to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or during or in conjunction with a School Event.

~ School Officials shall not orally express personal religious beliefs or affiliations to students during or in conjunction with instructional time or a School Event. School Officials shall not express personal religious beliefs or affiliations to students through written or symbolic means [wearing crosses, yarmulkes, etc. is ok] (whether placed on a classroom or hallway wall, erected on a classroom floor, or otherwise attached or placed on the District's tangible property ...). [There goes the ugly Jesus "portrait"!].
And, to my mind, the most important of all:
~ School Officials shall not denigrate any particular faith, or lack thereof, or single out any student for disfavor or criticism because of his or her particular faith or religious beliefs, or lack thereof.
The school board is required to provide a copy of the Order to all teachers and administrators and conduct training by a lawyer (probably provided by the insurance company) of school official's obligations under the Consent Decree and under current First Amendment jurisprudence. The training is also to include the psychological and developmental impact of religious discrimination on students. This traing must be developed in consultation with the ACLU.

The Order applies to all students, present or future, not just to the plaintiffs in this case and the court will retain jurisdiction over the matter for at least ten years. Thus, violations of the Order can result in further judgments or sanctions merely on a showing of a violation.

The plaintiffs were awarded nominal damages but the ACLU got $40,000 in legal fees (which the insurance company no doubt thinks is getting off cheap), the plaintiffs get $4,000 to recompense them for transport costs of their son to a distant school that is somewhat less biased and the school has to pay for bus service for the student to the new school until he graduates (which the school board ought to consider getting off light!).

All-in-all, a satisfying outcome. Now that cooler heads have prevailed, maybe the Sabines can join the rest of the country in forming one nation under the law.

Friday, March 14, 2014


Who Didn't Get the Memo?

Michael Zimmerman, founder and director of "The Clergy Letter Project," has a post up at HuffPo about "Intelligent Design's Final Days."

He refers to Texas Freedom Network's blog TFN Insider post concerning a March 14-15 conference at Faith Bible Church in The Woodlands north of Houston, about whether "advances in cosmology, biochemistry, paleontology, and genetics undermine essential Christian doctrines, or is there in fact compelling evidence for design in nature?

They mean that space aliens or time traveling designers support essential Christian doctrines?

This, of course, is nothing new. ID, from the beginning, has faced the conundrum of how to pretend that ID is scientific for constitutional purposes while, at the same time, frantically hand signaling the faithful that the "designer" is not only a god, but the "Christian God."

You can read Zimmerman's and the TFN's posts for yourselves. I am nowhere near as hopeful as the title of Zimmerman's post implies. Lying with a straight face is a required talent for ID "advocates." They will not be embarrassed, much less deterred, by a few cats out of the bag.

But what amused me (you know this blog is about what amuses me, right?) is the organizer's description of William ("Wild Bill") Dembski:
Dr. William Dembski is Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. He is also the Phillip E. Johnson Research Professor of Culture and Science at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he helps head its Institute of Scientific Apologetics.
"Scientific Apologetics"? Now really! Could there ever be a better two-word description of ID?

Sunday, March 09, 2014



Okay ... nothing Neil deGrasse Tyson or Ann Druyan can do can make those of us old enough to remember watching "Cosmos" forget the impact of Carl Sagan's original.

The special effects are much better than the original and Tyson may (or may not) be able to avoid some of Sagan's ticks ("billyons and billyons") but smooth delivery will never take the place of Sagan's obvious passion for his subject. Not that I think Tyson is any less passionate about science, but glibness and "production values" can mask that.

And the impact of the better special effects is all but destroyed by the cheesy animation of Giordano Bruno's story, especially since the tale of Bruno told, as a supposed hero of science against the darkness of religious dogma, is cardboard "history" at best.

Still, that is only one episode and the "modern" version of Cosmos may turn out better and have more impact on the public than the original.

And maybe the fact that I'm old and suffer the human tendency to see our youth as a "golden age" accounts for the fact that I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


Loser's Lament

Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and marginally more rational religious right wingnut, points to a Public Religion Research Institute survey with the lament "We may lose the marriage argument with the culture, but we're in trouble if we lose it with our kids."

Here is the survey and here is a summary.

From the summary:
Overall support for same-sex marriage jumped 21 percentage points, from 32 percent in 2003 in a Pew Research survey to 53 percent in 2013 in PRRI's survey. During this period, gay marriage became legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, that blocked federal recognition of legally wed gay couples.

Since 2003, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America opened their doors to gay bishops and clergy, even as most other major U.S. denominations kept their teachings against homosexual behavior intact. Yet over the decade, PRRI found, the number of people who say same-sex marriage is against their religious beliefs dropped, from 62 percent to 51 percent.
Even though "[o]verall, most people (51 percent) say sex between adults of the same gender is morally wrong":
... "support for legality outstrips moral acceptability in several religious groups," said Jones. For example, 47 percent of white Catholics find gay sex to be morally acceptable, "but 58 percent of the same group say they favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. It is not only that they are more tolerant of a legal norm. They are shifting their own moral lens on the issue."

Meanwhile, religious leaders' continued preaching against homosexual behavior is driving some people out the church doors, Jones said. PRRI found people perceive three major religious groups to be "unfriendly" toward lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) people:

• The Catholic Church (58 percent)
• The Mormon church (53 percent)
• Evangelical Christian churches (51 percent)

Among those who say they left their childhood religion and now have no religious identity, nearly one in four (24 percent) say their church's negative teachings or treatment of LGBT people was an important reason they left. ...

At the root of change: A personal connection to someone who is LGBT. The number of Americans who say they have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian rose from 22 percent in 1993 to 65 percent today.
Now the really bad news for Al. While 51 percent of Americans think homosexual relations are morally wrong, "56 percent of millennials (ages 18-33) – say it is morally acceptable."

Personal connections to someone who is LGBT, the biggest factor in favoring gay rights, has risen to 65 percent generally but, among millennials, "71 percent say they have a close friend or relative who is gay or lesbian."

And worst of all for Al, among those who say they left their childhood religion and now have no religious identity, 31 percent of millennials, compared to 24 percent generally, say that church homophobia is a major reason, "damaging churches' ability to bring in — and keep — young adults."

It sounds like, Al, that you are not losing the argument with your kids but that you have lost it.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


The Eyes of Texas ...

... religious wingnuts are crying!

United States District Judge Orlando L. Garcia has issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the State of Texas "from enforcing Article 1, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution, any related provisions in the Texas Family Code, and any other laws or regulations prohibiting a person from marrying another person of the same sex or recognizing same-sex marriage." This is not a final judgment but the grant of a preliminary injunction is all but the equivalent in that such an order requires that a plaintiff must establish four factors: (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a substantial threat that failure to grant the injunction will result in irreparable injury; (3) the threatened injury outweighs any damage that the injunction may cause the opposing party; and (4) the injunction will not disserve the public interest. However, since other courts have stayed similar decisions recently, Judge Garcia stayed his ruling pending an appeal.

As always, the important part is just who the plaintiffs are:
Plaintiffs De Leon and Dimetman have been in a committed relationship since they met in 2001. De Leon is a United States Air Force veteran. She was on active duty for four years and served six years in the Texas Air National Guard. De Leon was honorably discharged after ten years of service. At the time she met Dimetman, De Leon was serving in the Texas Air National Guard while also working as a statistical analyst. Dimetman was running her own business.

As a couple, De Leon and Dimetman have supported one another as they pursued further education. During their time together, De Leon attended and completed graduate school, receiving a Master's degree in Applied Statistics from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Meanwhile, Dimetman attended the University of Texas Law School and became an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. De Leon and Dimetman continue to share finances, live together, and have a loving, stable relationship.

De Leon and Dimetman wanted to have a family, and it was important to them to marry one another before they became parents. The couple wanted to marry in Texas, their home state, but Section 32 prevented them from doing so. Therefore, they chose to marry in Massachusetts, a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. They married in Boston on September 11, 2009, after having an eight-year solid, loving relationship.

In 2012, De Leon and Dimetman became parents to a child, C.' Although De Leon is C's biological mother, both her and Dimetman consider themselves C's mothers. They both share child-rearing duties and obligations. Because Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage, Dimetman could not be considered C's legal parent without going through the adoption process. Therefore, to obtain recognition as C's parent, Dimetman formally adopted C at considerable expense. ...

Plaintiffs Holmes and Phariss met in the spring of 1997. At the time, Holmes was in the Air Force and stationed in San Antonio. Phariss was and remains an attorney licensed to practice in Texas. The couple quickly developed a friendship that became a dating relationship. On August 9, 1997, the couple went on their first date. They celebrate August 9 as their anniversary.

After dating for several months, Holmes and Phariss started living together. Holmes, who joined the Air Force when he was eighteen, began a military program to become a physician's assistant. After completing the program, the Air Force stationed Holmes at different bases throughout the country. Because Phariss continued to live and work in Texas, he and Holmes spent the next eleven years in a long-distance relationship. Depending on where Holmes was serving, Phariss and Holmes would travel as often as every week to see each other. During Holmes' final assignment at Sheppard Air Force base in Wichita Falls, Texas, Holmes and Phariss generally saw one another each weekend and on special occasions during the week.

Holmes honorably served our nation for nearly twenty-three years and retired as a Major at the end of 2010. After enduring an eleven-year, long-distance relationship, Holmes and Phariss were able to live together again. Holmes and Phariss now want to marry in Texas. On October 3, 2013, the couple applied for a marriage license at the Bexar County Clerk's office, but Defendant Gerard Rickhoff refused to issue one because Holmes and Phariss are both men.
Those are, of course, horrible people, who society should penalize and shun and try make their lives miserable.


As Judge Garcia noted:
Defendants in this case have identified two bases or purposes for Section 32: (1) to increase the likelihood that a mother and a father will be in charge of childrearing; and (2) to encourage stable family environments for responsible procreation. These bases fail rational basis review as explained below. ...

There is no doubt that the welfare of children is a legitimate state interest; however, limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples fails to further this interest. Instead, Section 32 causes needless stigmatization and humiliation for children being raised by the loving same-sex couples being targeted. ...

Defendants have not provided any evidentiary support for their assertion that denying marriage to same-sex couples positively affects childrearing. ... To the contrary, this Court finds that far from encouraging a stable environment for childrearing, Section 32 denies children of same-sex parents the protections and stability they would enjoy if their parents could marry. ...

Furthermore, Defendants' proferred reason fails rational basis because Defendants have failed to establish how recognizing a same-sex marriage can influence, if at all, whether heterosexual couples will marry, or how other individuals will raise their families. ... Defendants' proferred rationale presumes that same-sex couples cannot be good parents -- this is the same type of unconstitutional and unfounded presumption that the Supreme Court has held "cannot stand." ...

The procreation argument raised by Defendants also fails. The notion that [banning] same-sex marriage will encourage responsible procreation assumes that heterosexual marriage is "naturally procreative." However, procreation is not and has never been a qualification for marriage. ...

Defendants have failed to establish how banning same-sex marriage in any way furthers responsible procreation. "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages."
As to the Due Process argument, Judge Garcia found:
The Constitution guarantees that all citizens have certain fundamental rights. These rights vest in every person whom the Constitution protects and, because they are so important, an individual 's fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote and may not depend on the outcome of elections. (Emphasis in original) ...

In this case, Defendants argue the right to marry does not include the right to same-sex marriage. That is, Defendants claim this is a "definitional" issue, in that Plaintiffs are seeking recognition of a "new right to same-sex marriage" as opposed to the existing "right to marry." This Court finds this argument fails, as the Supreme Court did not adopt this line of reasoning in the analogous case of Loving v. Virginia. Instead of declaring a new right to interracial marriage, the Court held that individuals could not be restricted from exercising their "existing" right to marry on account of their chosen partner. ... That is, an interracial marriage was considered to be a subset of "marriage," in the same way that same-sex marriage is included within the fundamental right to marry.
Anyone who values fairness in our society ... anyone who thinks that decent, loving people should be treated equally under our laws ... cannot rationally or honorably try to deny Cleopatra De Leon, Nicole Dimetman, Victor Holmes, and Mark Phariss the rights and privileges of marriage.

Only people, intentionally or not, who are evil could want that!

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