Freethought Nation

Founding Fathers (Michael Allen Smith)

In the months leading up to the start of Fall semester, the Roanoke Times opinion pages hosted an illuminating exchange over the cultural dispositions and motivations of the Founders and the role of prayer in U.S. government. Bob Crawford began the discussion with a review and rebuttal of some of the most common arguments made in support of (by definition state-sanctioned) official prayer at government meetings, including an argument from tradition or precedent, an argument from founding principles, and an argument from neutrality or inclusivity (that is, the case for open-access prayer, which is currently sanctioned by the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, as opposed to non-sectarian prayer, which the similarly-situated Forsyth County, NC, to which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a sternly worded end). Crawford concludes,

It is time we all understand that it is only by prohibiting our government from prescribing or supporting any religious position that our Constitution secures our freedom to hold our own religious views.

Comment on Crawford’s editorial here.

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What do we want from a Viewpoints on Social Science and Religion panel?

Old Rugged Cross (flickr)

Last semester, Free@VT hosted a panel entitled “Viewpoints on Science and Religion”. As faculty co-advisor–to-be Zack Lewis explained in his opening remarks, one main purpose of the panel was to illustrate, for the largely student and resident audience, how people who are not philosophers or theologians can engage in a respectful and critical exchange about their disagreements on religion. By this measure the event was quite a success. A review by Ryan Pfeifle in the Collegiate Times described the event as “a fantastic opportunity to listen to the opinions of several of our own professors discuss a very divisive topic”, and went on to highlight the importance of such events:

In a world so polarized in views, we need to have rational discussions or debates like this to serve as a model through which our own debates can also take shape.

These discussions open a window into the rationality and thoughts of those who may feel differently from our own convictions, which helps in the understanding of other stances.

They also have the fantastic potential of tackling some of the subjects that make most individuals uneasy and ideas that most would prefer not to debate about at all.

We are now in the early stages of planning a sequel event. Rather than return to the science–religion discussion with new faces—while it is something we may eventually do—this time we plan to bring together faculty in the social sciences to discuss their views on religion, how these views intersect with their disciplines, and the questions they have for each other.

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kaiju versus jaegers at the Lyric Theatre

Gipsy Danger Jet Jaguar vs Onibaba Megalon (WikiZilla)

Tonight several of us are going to the newly digitized Lyric Theatre to live or relive the awesomest of the summer’s homages, Pacific Rim! We’ll head to the 21:30 (9:30pm) showing after tonight’s regular discussion meeting.

Now, there are many, many good reasons to see this movie, and to see it on the big screen (here is a shamelessly cherry-picked favorable review by Matt Zoller Seitz), and i’d like to share a couple of my own. They emanate from my own passions, so you may not share them…but, hey, i’m the one blogging today.

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Labor Day!

Pullman strikers outside Arcade Building (Wikimedia Commons)

Today is the 127th Labor Day, one of several culturally and nationally recognized secular observances in the United States. A day to celebrate the contributions of workers to our national history and prosperity was one of many gains hard-won by a burgeoning movement of organized labor that rapidly spread nationwide during the Reconstruction Era. The movement has taken a variety of forms and persists to this day, though it is probably best recognized in the form of unions, during a period that included the Golden Age of Freethought.

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sentencing standards of care

 

Prison exterior by Chris Gray

Chelsea Manning‘s news presence has veered from her leak of classified documents to WikiLeaks and subsequent conviction of espionage to her public confirmation of her already widely-acknowledged gender. Her identity with an unassigned gender and the medical associations that it entails may have implications for the conditions and duration of her sentence. In particular, it is unknown whether she will eventually be able to receive hormone replacement therapy while incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth.

The terms of transgender prisoners is an important human rights issue and hardly exclusive to high-profile cases like Manning’s. Case in point: Ophelia De’lonta.

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