Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pasadena's Health Director Has Some Unhealthy Attitudes

In all of the tumult last week about the Supreme Court's ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway, some other interesting stories got overlooked.

One of them concerns the director of public health for the city of Pasadena, Calif., who, it seems, is in a spot of trouble.

It has come to light that Dr. Eric Walsh has been moonlighting as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. In sermons posted online, he has called evolution "a religion created by Satan" and sharply criticized homosexuality, Catholicism and Islam.
Walsh seems to have something of an obsession with the devil. Just about everything he dislikes, from Oprah Winfrey and Disney movies to certain rap stars, he has labeled Satan influenced. Among his targets is the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 moved to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness. That decision, Walsh says, was "raised up by" Satan.

Of course Walsh has the right to say these things and preach them from the pulpit - and the residents of Pasadena have the right to question his views and ask if they might be affecting public policy. They would be wise to do that because in this case, Walsh's rhetoric would seem to be highly relevant to his job.

Pasadena is one of a handful of California cities that has its own public health director. (The position is normally a county-level slot.) It's an important job with a host of responsibilities, and Walsh's strident theological views could impact them all.

Walsh believes that condom-distribution programs lead to promiscuity. This stance - which is unsupported by the medical community - would seem to be highly relevant to his job. He has also blasted public schools for teaching tolerance of LGBT students, asserting, "[I]f two adults agree to do something, it's not wrong because they are both consenting adults. That is doctrine from the pits of hell. What makes something right is not based on man, it is based on God." He has been critical of single moms too.

Is this the guy you want making decisions about what young people learn about sex?

I'd also be concerned about his opposition to evolution. Good medical professionals understand how viruses mutate and how this affects vaccine effectiveness. It's due to a little thing called natural selection. I'd be wary of going to any doctor who rejected this theory.

Jim Newton of the Los Angeles Times put it well, writing of Walsh: "Not only did he pop off about the various kinds of people he believes are condemned by God, he also specifically rejected evolution, which he regards as the mischievous work of Satan rather than a fact of science. Those remarks suggest not just intolerance or religious fervor but active rejection of science important to carrying out his work as a health officer. In that instance, his comments raise questions not so much about his beliefs as about his competence. Would Pasadena want a health director who claimed tobacco did not cause heart disease or who insisted that climate change was a myth?

Frank C. Giradot, a columnist for the Pasadena Star-News, also raised important points.

"[O]ur laws give him every right to believe in a hateful, bigoted and small-minded creed," Giradot wrote. "But its prideful, marginalized and wrong-headed nature can't help but affect Walsh's judgment. It's a belief system that makes Dr. Walsh incredibly unsuited for public service as the city's chief health officer."
Walsh is on paid leave while city officials investigate the matter.

That leave should be made permanent, without the pay. If Walsh wants to spread a theologically based message of division and bigotry, let him. And let the people who agree with that message and want to hear it pay his salary. His repulsive views have made him unfit for public service.

-Rob Boston

P.S. Americans United has worked with many Seventh-day Adventists over the years. They are often strong supporters of the separation of church and state. Walsh seems like an unfortunate outlier.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

California Representative Protests Hypocrisy of National Day of Prayer event

Rep. Janice Hahn (CA44-D) finally had enough.

On Thursday, at the annual National Day of Prayer gathering hosted on Capitol Hill, Rep. Hahn left in protest after the highlighted speaker, Dr. James Dobson (husband of self-designated "National Day of Prayer Task Force" [NDOPTF] chair Shirley Dobson), used his time to denounce President Obama and labelling him "the abortion president."

Hahn was appalled. “We have this annual, national day of prayer, which is supposed to bring the whole country together to pray for our nation, and typically you put politics aside and you come together,” Hahn told CQ Roll Call. “James Dobson just absolutely violated that, and I really think he did damage to what we try to do up here in Washington, D.C.”

Dobson is the founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family and also hosts a conservative Christian-themed talk show “Family Talk.”  His organization has controlled the National Day of Prayer celebrations for over two decades and has regularly used it to exclusively promote Christian Dominionism.  All volunteers for the NDOPTF are required by the organization to sign letters affirming Jesus Christ to be their "personal Lord and Savior".

Rep. Hahn still, however, thinks the event is worthwhile. “I’m the co-chair of the weekly Congressional Prayer Breakfast,” she explained. “I was the co-chair this year of the National Prayer Breakfast. And I work so hard at putting my politics aside every week and coming together with members of Congress I don’t agree with, but we find an hour a week where we put politics aside and pray for our country, and so far, it’s worked. … I was so upset today I felt like abandoning everything I’ve done to try to be bipartisan.”

Americans United and other pro-secular groups have been complaining about the exclusive and partisan nature of these annual events for some time, as well as for its inherent contempt for and undermining of the secular nature of our country's constitution.  We applaud Rep. Hahn for being willing to publicly denounce the sham event and urge her and Congress to distance themselves from the NDOPTF for the future and to stop endorsing and supporting this Constitutionally hostile event.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

State-Sponsored Supplications: Does the United States Really Need a National Day of Prayer?

by James C. Nelson in Wall of Separation |    

Editor’s Note: Today is the congressionally mandated National Day of Prayer. “The Wall of Separation” is pleased to offer this guest post by James C. Nelson, a retired justice of the Montana Supreme Court. Nelson was appointed to the court by Gov. Marc Racicot in 1993 and was reelected to the position three times, serving until his retirement in 2013.
Congress has proclaimed that the first Thursday in May – May 1, this year – be set aside as a National Day of Prayer. There will be prayer breakfasts and similar events conspicuously attended by elected officials, politicians and sectarian persona.
But, should Congress and state officials be promoting prayer at all? According to the Constitution, no!
The First Amendment guarantees two things: (1) that Congress will not prohibit the free exercise of religion; and (2) that Congress will make no law respecting an establishment of religion. These two clauses embody the wall separating church and state – a wall that is supposed to keep government out of religion, period.
Why, then, did Congress create in 1952, and then codify in 1988, a “national” day of prayer?  If your answer is, “True to the intentions of the Constitution’s framers, America is Christian Nation,” you’d be wrong.  Indeed, creating any kind of a religious nation, Christian or otherwise, is exactly what the framers were trying to avoid when they drafted the First Amendment. And for good reason.
At the time the First Amendment was adopted there actually were official state churches held over from colonial times. People were prosecuted and imprisoned for their religious practices and public statements at odds with those of the official or prevailing local religious views. Jews and Muslims were demonized and persecuted; Christians often violently disagreed over Biblical interpretation, religious doctrine and practice. Each sect had its own lock on the truth.
In that historical context, and based on the views of men like Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, John Leland, George Washington, and James Madison, the First Amendment’s religion clauses were drafted to guarantee freedom of belief and tolerance for all religions - -and to keep government out of that mix.
Importantly, there is not one mention of God, Jesus, Christ, Christianity or prayer in the religion clauses. There are only two references to “religion” in the Constitution – one in the First Amendment and another in Article VI banning any religious test for public office.
Indeed, the “Christian Nation” concept first came into existence during the Civil War – largely conceived and perpetuated by Northern ministers who, when the war was going badly, announced that the Union Army’s defeats were God’s punishment for ignoring God in the Constitution. But, when the tide of war shifted, these same ministers then proclaimed that God was rewarding the spiritually upright side of the conflict. Thus, America being founded as a “Christian Nation” is fiction. Worse than that, it is exactly contrary to what the framers were trying to negate in the First Amendment.
So, besides violating the principle of separation of church and state, what’s wrong with a national (or state) day of prayer?  First, Americans don’t need a congressional proclamation to tell them to pray; they already have a personal, constitutional right to pray – or not to pray – as they (not the government) see fit.
Second, government is not permitted to be in the business of telling people whether to pray, when to pray or who to pray to.
Third, the National Day of Prayer has become a vehicle for spreading religious misinformation and fundamentalist Christian doctrine under the aegis of the government – again precisely what the framers were seeking to prohibit.
Feel free to pray or not pray today – not in response to a congressional proclamation but because you have a constitutional right to do either. But, if you choose to pray, you may want to ask that our elected officials begin to honor the letter and spirit of the First Amendment and respect the separation of church and state.
After all, each previously swore an oath to do just that.