Thursday, July 2, 2015

"Church of Cannabis" Holds First Service

So apparently this church is no joke.

During the original flap over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Bill Levin filed paperwork chartering "The First Church of Cannabis" in Indiana. At the time it sounded more like a Satanic Temple-style publicity stunt, deliberately pitting religious freedom against marijuana prohibition. However, yesterday the new church held its first service. Local law enforcement showed up in force, and issued a statement that anyone caught with marijuana would be arrested. However, no arrests were made and the service proceeded without incident.

The opening of the church had been marred with police attention after Levin said marijuana would be part of the church's services, with warnings of intervention from IMPD and Marion County's prosecutor.

Marijuana is currently illegal in Indiana for both medical and recreational use.

Neighbors also expressed frustration with the new church. The properties that surrounded the church were lined with caution tape and "No Parking" signs. One neighbor even said she spent nearly $4,000 to build a new fence to keep church attendees out.

Levin filed to open the church on the same day the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law.

Now here's my question. Were there no arrests because no marijuana use was observed, or because the officer who makes the arrest that allows a court challenge based on the RFRA will probably see his or her career come to an abrupt end? If the organizers are really looking to overturn the law they first need a case, and I expect the powers that be don't want them to be given that opportunity.

But does that then mean members of the cannabis church can smoke up with impunity at services? The whole situation is quite frankly a mess from a legal perspective. While the Indiana RFRA was amended to prohibit discrimination after a loud public outcry, the law still passed and nothing in the amended text mentions drug laws. It remains to be seen if they can indeed be trumped by individual religious beliefs.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Oklahoma Ten Commandments Must Go

The saga of the Oklahoma City Ten Commandments monument appears to be over. Yesterday the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered that it be removed from the grounds of the State Capitol. The court ruled that the monument represented a clear endorsement of religion on the part of the state government, and therefore had to be moved elsewhere.

In a 7-2 decision, the court said the placement of the monument violated a section in the state’s constitution, which says no public money or property can be used either directly or indirectly for the “benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

Lawmakers have argued that the monument was not serving a religious purpose but was meant to mark a historical event.

This opened the door for other groups, including Satanists and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, to apply for permission to erect their own monuments on Capitol grounds to mark what they say are historical events.

The court apparently chose the simpler of the two possible constitutional options. Either public grounds must be open to symbols of all religions, or to none of them. Allowing the symbols of one religion but prohibiting those of another, as Oklahoma lawmakers originally tried to do, represents an endorsement of that religion's beliefs and is not allowed.

So I suppose this counts as another win for the Satanic Temple. They never got to put up their planned Baphomet statue, but they succeeded in bringing enough publicity to the issue that they were able to get the Ten Commandments removed - which was really their goal from the start.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Same Rainbow as Always

Almost sixty years ago the NBC television network adopted the original version of its now well-known logo consisting of a stylized peacock with rainbow tail feathers. The colors were chosen to highlight a new-fangled piece of technology called the color television, and some variant of the logo has been used by NBC affiliates ever since.

The logo has change over the years, but one constant has been the rainbow tail feathers. The above image shows the logo as it first appeared in 1957. Apparently, though, one viewer had never noticed, and took the network to task for "changing" it's logo to rainbow colors in the wake of last week's Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

One Facebook user admonished his local NBC affiliate for changing its station’s peacock logo to rainbow colors.

“Your changing your station logo with the colors of gays is a disgrace,” complained Facebook user Don Stair. “Just stay out of it… Your integrity is ruined… ABC KATV is my choice in the future for all Little Rock station viewing… Shame on you!”

The station told Stair that the logo had never changed. “We didn’t change our logo Don,” the station replied. “Same logo as always.”

Now you can laugh about how dumb this one viewer happened to be, but this story actually highlights an important psychological bias that can easily distort our perceptions. The viewer didn't notice the rainbow feathers until he started paying attention to all things rainbow after the ruling, when many businesses started changing the colors of their logos to support an issue that he strongly opposed.

Our senses are constantly pulling in far more information than our brains can fully process, so what we tend to notice most is whatever we direct our attention towards. Robert Anton Wilson once proposed an experiment in which you make a deliberate resolution to focus on finding quarters on the sidewalk as you go about your day. Often, when you do the experiment, you surprisingly will.

Ignoring the possible macrocosmic operancy of magick, psychologists explain that in fact you probably do walk past quarters on the sidewalk more often than you think, but usually you're paying attention to something else and miss them. However, when you focus your attention on the task, you start noticing them. Learning to direct your attention in this way is one of the first lessons of the magical path.

Energy really does follow attention, at the very least in a metaphoric sense. Being able to work around your regular sensory filters helps you perceive phenomena outside the normal range. It also prevents you from looking like an idiot when you complain to your television network about an aspect of their logo that hasn't changed in sixty years.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Rules for Marriage Equality

In a 5-4 decision that presumably has sent the heads of fundamentalists everywhere spinning, the Supreme Court has just ruled that marriage equality is now the law of the land in the United States. The majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy struck down state bans on same-sex marriage as violations of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Kennedy grounds his opinion in two separate but related provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment: the due process and equal protection clauses. The "liberty" protected by the due process clause, Kennedy explains, protects gay couple's fundamental right to marriage. And the equal protection clause bars the government from singling out a specific group—here, gays—and depriving them of certain rights. Kennedy nicely describes the "synergy between the two protections":

"The right of same-sex couples to marry that is part of the liberty promised by the Fourteenth Amendment is derived, too, from that Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of the laws. The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way, though they set forth independent principles. Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always coextensive, yet in some instances each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. In any particular case one Clause may be thought to capture the essence of the right in a more accurate and comprehensive way, even as the two Clauses may converge in the identification and definition of the right."

I guess this means the "spiritual war" declared by the Southern Baptist Convention is on. Except that basically, they just lost, at least in terms of civil law. At the same time, all the nonsense about churches being forced to perform same-sex weddings and such is just that. Churches can define marriage however they want, and the constitution fundamentally protects their rights to do so. They just can't force their religious definitions of marriage onto everyone who doesn't share their beliefs.

And just as a point, I'm also guessing that this guy isn't really going to set himself on fire now that the Supreme Court has ruled against him. Or, for that matter, any of these other goofy predictions from prominent evangelicals coming to pass.

UPDATE: And I totally nailed that one. "Oh, I wasn't really going to set myself on fire, it was just a quotation!" Rick Scarborough, you are officially full of shit. The rest of them likely are as well.

Just as a point, some people have been passing this sad article around without reading it closely as proof that he did it. But the Texas minister who set himself on fire was Charles Moore, not Rick Scarborough, and it happened last year. In his suicide note, Moore explained that he did it to protest racism. It had nothing to do with marriage equality.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Censor the Naked Bike Ride!

Portland, Oregon and Minneapolis, Minnesota have something of a rivalry going over which is the best large city in the country for cycling. Portland held the title for years and years, but in 2010 Minneapolis finally captured the top spot after investing in over a hundred miles of bike trails that now connect most of the metro area. Since then, the top ranking has bounced back and forth between the two cities.

One bicycling event, though, that I doubt I will ever see in Minneapolis is the annual Naked Bike Ride, which is scheduled for this coming Saturday. It's a little known fact in the rest of the country that in Portland, riding a bicycle is an exception to public laws against nudity. So you can legally ride a bike naked, you just can't hop off and walk it without putting some clothes on. It surprises me a bit that it has taken so long, but this year a local evangelist is launching a campaign against naked cycling, called "Censor the Naked Bike Ride."

It's a crime against Jesus that one brave citizen is trying to, if not stop, at least ameliorate. Jake Zimmermann of, whose previous efforts include "See You at the Strip Pole," is taking the fight for souls to the streets with an action called "Censor the Naked Bike Ride."

As the event listing says: "Join us and hundreds of Christian volunteers, as we take Exodus 28:42 to the streets. Armed with bed sheets and teamed up in two’s, we’ll minister to the community by covering the bike-streakers as they peddle through our neighborhoods." If you can't come yourself, Zimmermann suggests donating sheets to Lake Bible Church in Lake Oswego.

So apparently, what's going to happen is that as naked riders go by, these true believers will follow them as long as they can holding up sheets. Really? It makes me think this has to be some sort of joke action, because it sounds like something out of The Onion. The sheer impracticality of it boggles, but I expect that watching these protesters try will make for some big laughs. I can't be in Portland for the ride, but hopefully somebody can take some videos and post them online. I'd really like a chance to see it, and get in some serious pointing and laughing.

Because even if this campaign is all a big joke, I expect that watching the festivities will prove especially hilarious.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

5th Circuit Shoots Down Form-Signing Objections

Conservative Judge Jerry Smith wrote the unanimous decision

The conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against a collection of cases in which the plaintiffs argued that filling out a form declaring their religious objections to contraception coverage somehow violated their religious freedom. From the characterization there you can get a pretty good idea what I think of that argument - it's fundamentally ridiculous. But if upheld, it could have led to serious legal problems.

Some background: in order to address objections to contraceptive coverage by religious employers, an accommodation was written into the new health care law that required such employers to submit a form declaring their religious objections. Once the government received the form, it would direct a third party to provide coverage. The Hobby Lobby decision expanded the eligibility for this accommodation to closely-held for-profit corporations whose owners share the same religious beliefs.

For the folks pushing these cases, though, that wasn't good enough. They argued that since the eventual result of filling out the form or informing the federal government of their objections was that coverage would be provided, their religious freedom was still being impinged upon. So apparently under their argument the only way that the government could figure out that an employer should get an accommodation in the first place would be to use telepathy or something.

East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell is a consolidated batch of cases, handed down on Monday, involving religious employers who object to some or all forms of birth control. These employers are entitled to an accommodation exempting them from federal rules requiring them to offer birth control coverage to their employees. Most of them may invoke this accommodation simply by filling out a form or otherwise informing the federal government of their objection and naming the company that administers their employer health plan. At this point, the government works separately with that company to ensure that the religious employer’s workers receive contraception coverage through a separate health plan.

Several lawsuits are working their way through the federal courts which raise the same legal argument at issue here. In essence, the employers claim that filling out the form that exempts them from having to provide birth control makes them complicit in their employee’s eventual decision to use contraception, and so the government cannot require them to fill out this form. So far, every single federal appeals court to consider this question has sided with the Obama administration and against religious employers who object to this accommodation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Off-World Pyramids?

Some conspiracy theorists think that space aliens built the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico. Generally speaking, I think this is usually a case of modern people imagining that the ancients were much less intelligent, which given how evolution works is clearly not true. Their knowledge base and corresponding technologies were different, but in biological terms they lived so recently that only minor genetic variations distinguish them from people alive today.

Recently pyramid-like shapes have been observed on both Mars and Ceres, prompting more speculation about the possibility of alien design. Obviously if the pyramids are constructed rather than natural, the only possibility is that some space-faring race could have built them. Humans have yet to travel that far, and have to rely on unmanned probes.

The Mars pyramid was recently spotted by the Curiosity rover and is shown in the above image.

The pyramid is thought to be about the size of a car, and most people believe it's nothing more than a coincidental rock formation.

However, the YouTube channel ParanormalCrucible goes further, insisting the "near perfect design and shape" means the pyramid is: "the result of intelligent design and certainly not a trick of light and shadow".

Well, I agree with the last part of that quote. I don't think the image is a "trick of light and shadow," I think the object really is pyramid-shaped. But there are a lot of reasons why a natural rock formation might be shaped like that. We have formations right here on Earth that show sharp edges and look like they might be human-made, even though we know that they were formed by geologic activity.