Category Archives: Religion

Scientists Have Established a Link Between Brain Damage and Religious Fundamentalism This explains a lot about our current political situation.

study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

 Religious fundamentalism refers to an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues. Fundamentalist groups generally oppose anything that questions or challenges their beliefs or way of life. For this reason, they are often aggressive towards anyone who does not share their specific set of supernatural beliefs, and towards science, as these things are seen as existential threats to their entire worldview.

Since religious beliefs play a massive role in driving and influencing human behavior throughout the world, it is important to understand the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism from a psychological and neurological perspective.

To investigate the cognitive and neural systems involved in religious fundamentalism, a team of researchers—led by Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University—conducted a study that utilized data from Vietnam War veterans that had been gathered previously. The vets were specifically chosen because a large number of them had damage to brain areas suspected of playing a critical role in functions related to religious fundamentalism. CT scans were analyzed comparing 119 vets with brain trauma to 30 healthy vets with no damage, and a survey that assessed religious fundamentalism was administered. While the majority of participants were Christians of some kind, 32.5% did not specify a particular religion.

Based on previous research, the experimenters predicted that the prefrontal cortex would play a role in religious fundamentalism, since this region is known to be associated with something called ‘cognitive flexibility’. This term refers to the brain’s ability to easily switch from thinking about one concept to another, and to think about multiple things simultaneously. Cognitive flexibility allows organisms to update beliefs in light of new evidence, and this trait likely emerged because of the obvious survival advantage such a skill provides. It is a crucial mental characteristic for adapting to new environments because it allows individuals to make more accurate predictions about the world under new and changing conditions.

Brain imaging research has shown that a major neural region associated with cognitive flexibility is the prefrontal cortex—specifically two areas known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Additionally, the vmPFC was of interest to the researchers because past studies have revealed its connection to fundamentalist-type beliefs. For example, one study showed individuals with vmPFC lesions rated radical political statements as more moderate than people with normal brains, while another showed a direct connection between vmPFC damage and religious fundamentalism. For these reasons, in the present study, researchers looked at patients with lesions in both the vmPFC and the dlPFC, and searched for correlations between damage in these areas and responses to religious fundamentalism questionnaires.

According to Dr. Grafman and his team, since religious fundamentalism involves a strict adherence to a rigid set of beliefs, cognitive flexibility and open-mindedness present a challenge for fundamentalists. As such, they predicted that participants with lesions to either the vmPFC or the dlPFC would score low on measures of cognitive flexibility and trait openness and high on measures of religious fundamentalism.

The results showed that, as expected, damage to the vmPFC and dlPFC was associated with religious fundamentalism. Further tests revealed that this increase in religious fundamentalism was caused by a reduction in cognitive flexibility and openness resulting from the prefrontal cortex impairment. Cognitive flexibility was assessed using a standard psychological card sorting test that involved categorizing cards with words and images according to rules. Openness was measured using a widely-used personality survey known as the NEO Personality Inventory. The data suggests that damage to the vmPFC indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by suppressing both cognitive flexibility and openness.

These findings are important because they suggest that impaired functioning in the prefrontal cortex—whether from brain trauma, a psychological disorder, a drug or alcohol addiction, or simply a particular genetic profile—can make an individual susceptible to religious fundamentalism. And perhaps in other cases, extreme religious indoctrination harms the development or proper functioning of the prefrontal regions in a way that hinders cognitive flexibility and openness.

The authors emphasize that cognitive flexibility and openness aren’t the only things that make brains vulnerable to religious fundamentalism. In fact, their analyses showed that these factors only accounted for a fifth of the variation in fundamentalism scores. Uncovering those additional causes, which could be anything from genetic predispositions to social influences, is a future research project that the researchers believe will occupy investigators for many decades to come, given how complex and widespread religious fundamentalism is and will likely continue to be for some time.

By investigating the cognitive and neural underpinnings of religious fundamentalism, we can better understand how the phenomenon is represented in the connectivity of the brain, which could allow us to someday inoculate against rigid or radical belief systems through various kinds of mental and cognitive exercises.

By Bobby Azarian / Raw Story

Posted by The NON-Conformist



What the Koch Brothers Want Students to Learn About Slavery The history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery

Given that the billionaire Charles Koch has poured millions of dollars into eliminating the minimum wage and paid sick leave for workers, and that in 2015 he had the gall to compare his ultra-conservative mission to the anti-slavery movement, he’s probably the last person you’d want educating young people about slavery.

Yet the history-teaching wing of the Koch brothers empire is seeking to promote an alternate narrative to slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. The political goal of these materials is to ensure students see racism and slavery as flaws in an otherwise spotless U.S. record, rather than woven into the fabric of our country from its inception.

The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) is the education arm of the network of front groups the Koch brothers use to promote their far-right ideology. Maureen Costello, the education director from Teaching Tolerance, has pointed out the many factual inaccuracies in the “Homework Help” video the BRI has recently promoted to teach students about slavery. She concludes that the history presented is “superficial, drained of humanity, and neglects to reckon with the economic and social reality of what opponents called ‘the slave power.’”

A dive into their “Documents of Freedom” readings reveals an even more disturbing agenda. The BRI bills the “Documents of Freedom” as a “modern take on the traditional textbook” — a “completely free digital course on history, government, and economics” authored by unnamed “teachers.” It’s essentially an online textbook that aims to promote a particular version of history, government, and economics that aligns with the interests of the Kochs.

The main “Documents of Freedom” reading on slavery, titled “Slavery and the Constitution,” is essentially a defense of the founding fathers and the Constitution against “some scholars” who “portray the founding fathers as racists.” The reading cherry-picks quotes from “the Founders” to argue that they believed slavery was morally wrong. Although the authors write that “most of the signers of the Declaration and the Constitution own[ed] slaves,” they steer clear of the brutal reality of chattel slavery.

They paint Thomas Jefferson as an anti-slavery crusader who “attacked the slave trade in harsh language” and “included African Americans in the universal understanding of the promise of liberty and equality.” But the Kochs’ curriculum fails to mention that Jefferson wrote Black people were “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Jefferson kept nearly 200 people in bondage, and even in his death emancipated only five. He regularly sold human beings away from their families to raise money to buy wine, art, and luxuries that only wealthy planters could afford. Nothing in the BRI reading acknowledges any contradiction between “the Founders’” awareness of “the immorality of slavery and the need for action” and their actual actions defending and protecting slavery.

Furthermore, the reading justifies the so-called three-fifths compromise — whereby an enslaved person was counted as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of congressional representation — by arguing “the Founders” had to make a “prudential compromise with slavery because they sought to achieve their highest goal of a stronger Union of republican self-government. Since some slaveholding delegations threatened to walk out. . .” Not only is this type of “compromise” immoral, but the problem with this logic is that the “slaveholding delegations” that threatened to walk out were themselves “Founders” who played an important role in crafting the Constitution.

In addition to selectively quoting the founders, the authors use quotations from Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln to bolster their argument that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document. It ignores that most politicians, including Lincoln, believed that the Constitution protected slavery where it existed. It also ignores the very large wing of the abolitionist movement, whose most prominent figure was William Lloyd Garrison, that viewed the Constitution as a “devil’s pact,” one “dripping with blood.” Douglass himself was part of that wing of the movement until he broke with Garrison in the 1850s, when he became convinced that framing the Constitution as an anti-slavery document could be a useful tool in the struggle to end slavery.

The reading also ignores how central slavery was to the economic growth of the United States, with phrases like “the number of slaves steadily grew through natural increase.” Natural? There was nothing natural about the expansion of slavery. Slavery expanded because it was profitable. The authors seek to divorce the expansion of slavery from the economic design of the capitalist cotton empire and from the horrific practice of breeding, which became a large source of revenue, especially for Virginia slaveholders.

What is most egregious is what the reading leaves out. Even today’s corporate textbooks will include a paragraph or two that attempt to provide the perspective of enslaved people. However, this reading concludes by arguing there was a steady “rise of freedom” after the Constitution because “the new nation was mostly bent on expanding liberty and equality.” The only way the Koch brothers’ Bill of Rights Institute can draw this conclusion is by completely ignoring the perspective of those whose land and labor were violently stolen by the wealthy U.S. elite.

As if that reading wasn’t bad enough, the follow-up reading, titled “Civil War and Reconstruction,” is a long, boring account that almost exclusively focuses on the battles between Radical Republicans in Congress, who the authors claim wanted to “punish the South,” and Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, who favored more “moderate” reconstruction plans. It might be the first reading I’ve ever looked at on Reconstruction that makes almost no mention of what Black people were doing during the era and barely discusses anything happening in the South.

Only in a pro-KKK film like Birth of a Nation and in the Koch brothers’ curriculum is Reconstruction reduced to a punishment for white Southerners. Let’s look at Reconstruction from the standpoint of those who were freed from more than 200 years of enslavement. It was a time when the formerly enslaved became congressmen; when the Black-majority South Carolina legislature taxed the rich to pay for public schools; when experiments in Black self-rule in the Georgia Sea Islands led to land reform, new schools, and a vital local governance. During Reconstruction Blacks and poor whites organized Union Leagues, and led strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and educational campaigns. During this period other social movements, especially labor and feminist movements, were inspired by the actions of African Americans to secure and define their own freedom.

As the late historian Lerone Bennett Jr. wrote: “It had never happened before, and it has never happened since, in America.” During Reconstruction, “the poor, the downtrodden, and the disinherited present[ed] their bills at the bar of history.” Of course, today’s elites like the Kochs have no interest in students learning this radical history. In the Kochs’ history, the only mention of Black people’s actions comes in one sentence at the end of the reading that papers over the massive accomplishments of the era: “Although African Americans soon made up the majority of voters in some southern states and even elected some black representatives to Congress, the right to vote was curtailed by southern states through several legal devices. . .”

Tellingly, the Koch authors finish off this reading with a quote from James Madison about the “Tyranny of Majorities.” The authors claim that Jim Crow was an example of when “African Americans in the post-Civil War South discovered firsthand the dangers of majority tyranny in a republic.” That’s the main lesson the Bill of Rights Institute wants students to draw from the Civil War and Reconstruction: You can’t trust the masses, so leave politics to elites like the Koch brothers. Of course, the inconvenient truth is that when one actually focuses on the South during Reconstruction, we see an era where poor white and Black people took political power away from elites. It’s this history that the Koch brothers don’t want students to learn.

By Adam Sanchez / Zinn Education Project

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Black People Are the Most Religious People In America, But What Are They Getting Out Of It?

African-Americans are the most religious group in the United States, but what are they getting in return?

According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of African-Americans identify as Christian, as opposed to 70 percent of whites and 77 percent of Latinos. A majority of Black people belong to historically Black protestant churches, which trace their origins to the late 18th century. Smaller numbers of African Americans are evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants and Muslims. The largest Black churches include the National Baptist Convention USA, Church of God in Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Association Inc.

Pew found that more African-Americans believe in God — 83 percent — than whites and Latinos — 61 percent and 59 percent, respectively. More Black people say religion is very important in their lives — 75 percent versus 49 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics. However, the number of religiously unaffiliated African-Americans is on the increase, and older Black people are more likely to be a part of historically Black Protestant congregations than younger people. These data on African-Americans and religiosity reflect a religious survey Pew conducted a decade ago.

The phenomenon is not limited to Black people in America, as Black people in general tend to be the most devout Christians, and Christianity is the most popular religion among the poor, formerly colonized people in Africa. On the continent, 55 percent of people are Christian, as opposed to 9 percent in 1910.

These statistics on Black religious enthusiasm come amid reports of a Black exodus by those, especially young people, who seek traditional African spirituality, or perhaps are disenchanted with the hypocrisy and sanctimony of Christian evangelicals, and view Christianity as a ”white man’s religion” that will not speak out against institutional racism and is stalling Black liberation. While Black young people and millennials are leaving a “stale, stagnant church” that has not grown with them and has shown hostility towards their movements, as D. Danyelle Thomas, founder and content creator of Unfit Christian wrote last year, this begs the question: What of the many people in the Black community, those who face the greatest challenges in society and continue to be so religious?

Black people generally did not arrive in America as Christians, as most were followers of indigenous traditional faiths and 10 to 15 percent were believers in Islam. Christianity was the religion of the slave master and of white supremacy. And yet, Christianity was the faith of Nat Turner and John Brown, of abolition. Faith has been an important part of Black life for centuries, for people who turned to the Bible for hope and inspiration and created their own form of worship.

Dr. Eboni Marshall-Turman, assistant professor of Theology and African American Religion at Yale Divinity School, is highly critical of the Black church. However, she also readily points out the significance of the Black church and its role in the community. “If we take the premise that African-Americans are the most religious people in America, what are they getting in return presupposes certain kinds of materiality which are at stake for Black people of faith. But I think more integral to a Black Christian project is hope,” Dr. Marshall-Turman, a Christian theologian who served for ten years as assistant minister of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told Atlanta Black Star. She added that religion historically has oriented Black people to the world, “especially to a world in the U.S. that has denigrated Black life,” and has provided a “breathing space for Black people to survive and thrive” and “think about one’s own life and future outside white hegemony.”

“There is a material aspect beyond the project of hope and possibility that is part of the tradition the church. It is often one of the first places we go and the last place we find ourselves,” Marshall-Turman offered. “We will die, and a person of faith will stand over us and say final words. Whether we see ourselves related to the Black church in terms of membership, there is the lifespan in terms of our community; the Black church bookends from the blessing of babies to the funeralizing of the dead.”

There are tangible ways in which the Black church participates in the life of the Black community, the Black theologian notes. “Black churches feed the hungry, they support the homeless. They support those who may not have the basic necessities of life. They show up at court to support members of our community who have been unjustly incarcerated and find themselves in the throes if the criminal justice system,” she said. “They advocate in terms of basic necessities, housing, jobs, equal-pay services in the communities, very foundational basic matters of one’s right to life,” Marshall-Turman added, noting Black churches and mosques that go beyond offering hope and are “showing up” and serving people outside of their congregation, and handing out food on a regular basis.

D. Danyelle Thomas has a different take on the Black church and why people remain. “I would venture to say that most remain in relationship with the church because of both fear and familiarity. Even those with only a tangential relationship to church/faith, the fear of hellfire and brimstone as an alternative is enough to keep us captive,” Thomas told Atlanta Black Star, noting that hellfire, which she removed from her own theology, is not the dominant philosophy for most Black churches. “There’s also the facet of familiarity, as Black churches are more than places of worship, they offer community within community for us. Some of us still do church because it’s what we’ve always done. Like fear, familiarity has a stronghold on Black folks’ relationship with faith because interrogating the ‘why’ behind our actions isn’t always easy,” she added.

There is no monolithic Black church, and some African-Americans congregations have a long legacy or a present-day track record of fighting for social and racial justice. Black churches have fought on the front lines in resisting racism through slavery and the civil rights movement, and the AME Church was founded in resistance to slavery. A center of community life, the Black church often has been the target of Klan violence and white domestic terror, whether the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, or the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. However, Black religious institutions have also pacified the Black struggle. As beloved as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are in the Black community, not everyone was with them and what they espoused when they were alive. Some Black churches have internalized white supremacy and have been accused of exploiting their congregations, and in the case of prosperity gospel, have appropriated white notions of capitalism for Black religious spaces.

Prosperity theology is alive and well, Thomas says. “The thing is, we all know we live in a system of capitalism that uses the tools of racism, sexism, classism, and the like to further hegemony. In my experience, I’ve found that the Black church is but a microcosm of the society at large. This is historically not the case, of course, as we know that the Black church was the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement and that faith has sustained our ancestors and living elders,” she said. “Logically, we understand that money answers all things so I don’t think people expect churches to operate for free. But, like with music and sports, churches have proved to be a fast-track to financial success with the right sales pitch — and that has, in my observation, elevated the visibility of Prosperity Theology or, as I call it, the business of church,” Thomas added.

According to Thomas, the pitch of prosperity theology is that an endless supply of wealth will be available to those who believe strongly enough. “There’s a bible verse that we’ve gleaned the idea that ‘only what you do for Christ will last’ (II Corinthians 5:9-10), and when you couple that with verses like Luke 6:38 (“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back”), the formula of spiritual gaslighting writes itself. And many folks decide to stay because they’ve been stripped of critical analysis in Jesus’ name,” she said.

Many people, including Black people, are in a relationship of spiritual gaslighting with their churches, Thomas argues, which lays the foundation for why many remain in churches that are not empowering or growing them. “Spiritual gaslighting is feeling like you’re crazy or bad, being taught the inability to trust your own judgment, constantly apologizing, insane levels of guilt and a need to constantly justify your normal, everyday decisions to an implacable and hyper-critical external authority,” she noted, adding that this does not mean the church is inherently abusive, but rather that certain normalized aspects of church culture are at play. “Your reason, conscience, will, emotions, culture, and even your personal relationship with God are all continually under attack by demonic forces that are seeking to deceive you. Therefore, you should be automatically suspicious of anything that comes from either yourself or from a source outside of the ideological bubble,” Thomas said.

“Those of us who stay or, at least, keep a tenuous-at-best relationship with the church WHILE transforming our theology do so because we understand the importance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We also stay because we believe in the possibility of building the new community that reflects our hopes,” Thomas said, while acknowledging that some people are fortunate to be in fellowship with ministries that focus on inclusion, mental health, social justice and other pressing concerns. “The latter, creating forward-looking fellowships, is the driver behind my work with Unfit Christian. My goal is to remove all things that restrict corporate access to God, including all the negative -isms and deafening silence on sociopolitical issues.”

“I think nothing is beyond critique. Black churches are not God. They are institutions built by human hands,” Marshall-Turnan believes. “if we want to strengthen the church and pursue the church as relevant to the Black community, we have to continually critique the church. I bet those who critique the church love the church, and believe in its transformative potential,” she said, noting the institution is historically sexist, homophobic, and transphobic, marginalizes young people and engages in economic fragmentation, which explain why young people are leaving the Black church.

“I’m not really concerned about the studies that show the increase in ‘nones,’ or that Black people are leaving the church. I feel the work of Antony Pinn is so resonant,” Marshall-Turman said of the Black atheist humanist scholar at Rice University who refutes the claim that all African-Americans are theists. “The narrative we’ve been hyper-religious people is not true, and when you think about the secular movements within the spectrum of the movement for Black freedom, it is obvious that every Black movement did not start in the church. So, it is not true that everybody has been in the church,” she noted, rejecting the alarmist argument about people leaving the Black church, and adding that with mobility and other societal factors, the concept of church itself is transforming.

“As a theological educator, I see the next generation every day. I see them coming with rigorous critiques of Black churches and also deep commitment to Black churches. … I also see young Black budding theologians who are imagining new ways of doing church, and I think the Black church as a rhetorical indicator is big enough to hold all of that. So I am not too worried about that. As an older millennial, I am not worried if the church will be here tomorrow,” she added, believing it will be in the hands of Black people such as these.

“The Black church has so much great potential to do transformational work. As it relates to everyday folks living in proximity to the church. Black churches matter,” Marshall-Turman concluded. “They just do, and they’re still held in high esteem behind this spirituality.”

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear

Billy Graham was a preacher man equally intent on saving souls and soliciting financial support for his ministry. His success at the former is not subject to proof and his success at the latter is unrivaled. He preached to millions on every ice-free continent and led many to his chosen messiah.

Graham also left behind a United States government in which religion plays a far greater role than before he intruded into politics in the 1950s. The shift from secular governance to “In God We Trust” can be laid squarely at this minister’s feet.

Graham’s message was principally one of fear…fear of a wrathful god…

More from CounterPunch News

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Racist Bullying? Religious School In Texas Argues Courts Can’t Intervene. A religious school is being sued after it punished alleged racist harassers with one-day suspensions.

Photo courtesy of Sounia Senemar

A photo of “KKK origami” allegedly given to a black student at a Texas school.

A teenage student and his family have sued a religious private school in Texas after the teen allegedly experienced bullying of a racist nature. The student claims the school did next to nothing to stop the bullying. But the school says its religious doctrine makes it immune from legal repercussions.

Legal experts told HuffPost the school’s argument is highly unusual in this context.

The school’s counsel filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on these grounds in August. A judge is expected to decide whether to move forward with the lawsuit later this month, per public documents obtained by HuffPost.

Maureen Beans and her son, C.R., had a horrible experience at Trinity Episcopal School in Galveston, Texas, according to the lawsuit filed in May.

C.R., who attended Trinity for sixth and seventh grade, starting in 2014, was a black student at the overwhelmingly white private school. He claims he was relentlessly bullied, sometimes in ways that appeared racially motivated.

In one incident, his three tormentors allegedly gave him pieces of origami designed to resemble hoods worn by Ku Klux Klan members.

Throughout this time, school administrators ignored the problem, even after C.R.’s family brought it to their attention, the lawsuit says. Even though the students admitted to the bullying, according to the lawsuit, they were only given one-day suspensions and required to apologize ― consequences the plaintiff deems sorely lacking.

Days after the school doled out the punishment, Beans decided to pull her son from Trinity and enroll him elsewhere.

Now, in a move that’s raised eyebrows among lawyers and legal experts, the school is trying to get the lawsuit dismissed by invoking the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.

This legal principle, also called the church autonomy doctrine, holds that religious institutions do not need to follow the same laws as non-religious entities, like public schools, if it conflicts with their religious doctrine.

It applies in cases where a decision from a civil judge would infringe on the internal religious organization of a group, like how a religious organization can choose to have only male or female clergy members perform specific tasks.

Trinity says it disputes the assertions made in the Beans’ lawsuit. But it is also essentially arguing that because it is a religious organization, it is allowed to maintain its own discipline system, which may or may not involve consequences for racist bullying.

Experts told HuffPost they are surprised a religious institution would make this argument with regard to racist bullying. Some say this is a step too far.

Robert Tuttle, professor of law and religion at George Washington University, said if the law were applied this way, courts would not have been able to intervene, for example, in cases where sexual abuse was reported at Catholic churches.

“There is very little reason to think that religious institutions should be immune from the state to the degree that they claim,” Tuttle said.

But Trinity Episcopal School is attempting to claim that immunity.

“As a religious institution, Trinity has a constitutionally-protected freedom to make decisions regarding the discipline of its students without judicial interference,” the court document states in the school’s motion to dismiss. “The courts cannot second guess those decisions, even in the guise of purportedly ‘secular’ causes of action.”

Lawyers for C.R. and his family reject the school’s argument.

The family is suing the school and its former head for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, saying the school failed to protect C.R. The parents of the three alleged bullies are also defendants in the suit.

The bullying had a deep, scarring effect on the teen, the lawsuit says. C.R. was so traumatized by the alleged bullying that at one point he spray-painted the word “hate” on the walls of his home.

C.R.’s grades dropped precipitously. He experienced depression and anxiety, and was unable to attend the four subsequent educational institutions in which he has been enrolled.

“This is a simple negligence case ― whenever you send your kid to a school you expect a certain standard of care,” Sounia Senemar, the family’s lawyer, told HuffPost. “They allowed this kid to be bullied, and they are trying to use religion as a shield.”

When asked to comment for this story, lawyers for Trinity said in a statement that the school is “committed to upholding standards that reflect our mission in Christ.”

“The school has a policy that prohibits any form of bullying or discrimination,” the statement read. “As soon as the school was informed of an issue over a year ago, it addressed it immediately, consistent with its policy.”

Multiple experts told HuffPost that Trinity’s tactic will almost certainly not succeed.

“The defendant here certainly qualifies as a religious school,” said University of Missouri School of Law Professor Carl Esbeck. “That’s not the problem.”

School bullying, however, is “not a matter of internal ecclesiastical governance,” he added. “They argue that it is, but it’s not. And it’s not even close.”

Attorneys say they will be closely watching the outcome of this case.

“If other religious schools see that this school here was successful in avoiding liability under this legal theory, then they are going to be more likely to invoke it if they face similar lawsuits in the future,” said Alison Tanner, legal fellow for the nonprofit group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

By Rebecca Klein/HuffPost

When the Constitution Was ‘At War With Itself,’ Frederick Douglass Fought on the Side of Freedom A new appreciation of the great abolitionist on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

This month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest figures in American history. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, sometime in February 1818. At the age of 20, he made his escape from bondage, traveling north to Philadelphia, New York City, and finally to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he would earn his “first free dollar” on the dockyards loading ships. “I was now my own master,” he proclaimed, “a tremendous fact.” In 1839, Douglass spoke up for the first time at an abolitionist meeting. Six years later, he was an internationally acclaimed orator and the author of a celebrated autobiography. In less than a decade, he had established himself as one of the most singular and influential voices in the most pressing debate of his time: the debate over slavery.
Arguing about slavery was a combat sport in those days, both figuratively and literally, and the field was crowded with skilled combatants. Among them was John C. Calhoun, the legendary South Carolina statesman who proclaimed slavery to be a positive good, fully sanctioned by the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution. There was also the militant Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who burned his copy of the Constitution, damning it as a pro-slavery “covenant with death and an agreement with hell.”
Douglass would face them both down. “Garrison sees in the Constitution precisely what John C. Calhoun sees there,” Douglass observed. He saw something different: “Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.”

At a time when the principles of the Declaration of Independence were under assault, Douglass waved the banner of classical liberalism, championing inalienable rights for all, regardless of race or sex. At a time when socialism was on the rise, Douglass preached the virtues of free labor and self-ownership in a market-based economy. At a time when state governments were violating the rights of the recently emancipated, Douglass professed the central importance of “the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box” in the fight against Jim Crow.
Douglass, the former slave who secretly taught himself how to read, would teach the American people a thing or two about the true meaning of the Constitution.
‘Wielded in Behalf of Emancipation’
On May 9, 1851, the leading lights of the abolitionist movement gathered in Rochester, New York, for the 18th annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Among the items on the agenda was a resolution calling for the society to officially recommend several anti-slavery publications, including a small weekly called the Liberty Party Paper.
But William Lloyd Garrison, the powerful editor of The Liberator, one of abolitionism’s flagship publications, would have none of that. The Liberty Party Paper, Garrison complained, saw the Constitution as an antislavery document. That view was tantamount to heresy, as it clashed with Garrison’s famous judgment that the Constitution was a pro-slavery deal with the devil.
So a more congenial resolution was soon proposed: The American Anti-Slavery Society would only recommend those publications that toed the Garrisonian line.
It was at this point that Frederick Douglass stood up. For the previous 10 years, Douglass had been a friend, ally, even a disciple of Garrison’s. “Every week the Liberator came, and every week I made myself master of its contents,” Douglass later recalled. “I not only liked—I loved this paper, and its editor.”
But Douglass no longer loved what Garrison had to say about the Constitution. In fact, he now thought Garrison was dead wrong on the subject. What is more, Douglass decided that the time had come for him to say so in public. Douglass “felt honor bound to announce at once,” he explained to the assembled worthies, that the paper he edited, The North Star, “no longer possessed the requisite qualification for their official approval and commendation.” The Constitution, he told them, “should be wielded in behalf of emancipation.”
Those words went down about as well as might have been expected given the audience. There were howls of outrage, cries of censure. Garrison, for his part, accused Douglass of harboring ulterior (read: financial) motives. “There is roguery somewhere!” Garrison exclaimed. Douglass never quite forgave his old comrade for that.
In truth, Douglass agonized over his change of opinion. He came around gradually and only after much brooding. He forced himself “to re-think the whole subject,” he recalled, “and to study, with some care, not only the just and proper rules of legal interpretation, but the origin, design, nature, rights, powers, and duties of civil government, and also the relations which human beings sustain to it.”
Those studies began to produce fruit as early as 1849. Writing in The North Star on March 16 of that year, Douglass conceded that the Constitution “is not a proslavery instrument” when interpreted “standing alone, and construed only in the light of its letter.” The trouble came when he considered the pro-slavery “opinions of the men who framed and adopted it.” How to reconcile the text of the Constitution with the unwritten intentions of its framers?
A year later, on April 5, 1850, Douglass moved a little further away from the strict Garrisonian position. The Constitution is “at war with itself,” he now wrote. “Liberty and Slavery—opposite as Heaven and Hell—are both in the Constitution.” Both in the Constitution? The imperious Garrison would not like the sound of that. Furthermore, Douglass ventured, “if we adopt the preamble [to the Constitution], with Liberty and Justice, we must repudiate the enacting clauses, with Kidnapping and Slaveholding.”
By 1851, his mind was made up. Yes, the Constitution did contain certain oblique references to slavery, such as the notorious “three fifths” clause. But those references spoke only of “persons.” Neither the word slave nor the word slavery appear anywhere in the text. That textual absence, Douglass concluded, was a fatal weakness in the slaveholders’s position that must be exploited. “Take the Constitution according to its plain reading,” he insisted. “I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.” Douglass would deploy those principles and purposes against the peculiar institution until it was finally destroyed.
‘All Men Are Created Equal’
There was also the Declaration of Independence to factor in. Was not the entire American system founded upon the “self-evident” truths that “all men are created equal” and endowed with “certain unalienable rights,” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Did not that noble language vanquish the case for slavery?

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Roy Moore lost because most Christians are better than the Bible

I’ve said before that the alleged behavior of Alabama Senate Candidate Roy “10 Commandments” Moore toward teenage girls was perfectly biblical. I’ll stand by that, citing chapter and verse.  (Other Christians or former Christians have made similar observations.) The Bible is a mishmash of texts that were written and assembled over the course of several hundred years by men with varied objectives. All manner of behavior and misbehavior can be and has been justified from the contradictory stories and commandments between its covers. Men like Roy Moore who think they speak for God, who think their end justifies any means, play this to their own advantage.

Moore rides horse to vote in Alabama Senate runoff
Image: Getty

Fortunately, most Christians are better than that. Where the Bible contradicts itself or endorses archaic cruelties or tribal thinking, their own conscience guides them toward something higher. Since the Iron Age, when most of the Bible texts were written, humanity has gotten clearer about kindness and justice and how people in power should behave toward those who are less powerful. We have evolved a more expansive view of who deserves to be treated according to the Golden Rule.

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Posted by The NON-Conformist