USA Today says Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) put in a request to have Secular Coalition of Arizona director Serah Blain speak before the house during yesterday’s “prayer time,” but his request was somehow misplaced, so he decided to address the House in her stead.
“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask you not to bow your heads,” Mendez told his fellow legislators at the start of yesterday’s invocation. “I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people of our state.”
This room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my Secular Humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.
Carl Sagan once wrote, “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.” There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution and for our democracy - and let us root our policymaking process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or nonbelief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona. Mendez went on to point out several Secular Coalition for Arizona members watching from the House gallery, and said he hoped Arizona’s non-believers would now be able to “feel as welcome and valued here as believers.”
The Phoenix New Times reports that one of the Coalition members in attendance “said she was ‘witnessing history.’”
In related news, the Supreme Court this week announced its plans to review the constitutionality of holding prayer sessions at legislative meetings.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) intends to run for president — of the United States — and he’s been a guest on Alex Jones’ show.
In other words, the guy raising the specter of Obama using “weather weapons” to kill Oklahomans is the same guy helping influence several Republican policymakers in 2013.
Maybe it’s just me, but I find that rather alarming."
On its face, defeasibility is a modest concept, with roots in logic and epistemology. An inference is defeasible if it can potentially be “defeated” in light of additional information. Unlike deductively sound conclusions, the products of defeasible reasoning remain subject to revision, held tentatively no matter how firmly.
All scientific claims are held defeasibly. It is a hallmark of the scientific process that claims are forever vulnerable to refinement and rejection, hostage to what the future could bring. Far from being a weakness, this is a source of science’s greatness. Because scientific inferences are defeasible, they remain responsive to a world that can reveal itself gradually, change over time, and deviate from our dearest assumptions.
The concept of defeasibilility has proved valuable in characterizing artificial and natural intelligence. Everyday inferences, no less than scientific inferences, are vetted by the harsh judge of novel data—additional information that can potentially defeat current beliefs. On further inspection, the antique may turn out to be a fake and the alleged culprit an innocent victim. Dealing with an uncertain world forces cognitive systems to abandon the comforts of deduction and engage in defeasible reasoning.
Defeasibility is a powerful concept when we recognize it not as a modest term of art but as the proper attitude toward all belief. Between blind faith and radical skepticism is a vast but sparsely populated space where defeasibility finds its home. Irreversible commitments would be foolish, boundless doubt paralyzing. Defeasible beliefs provide the provisional certainty necessary to navigate an uncertain world.
Recognizing the potential revisability of our beliefs is a prerequisite to rational discourse and progress, be it in science, politics, religion, or the mundane negotiations of daily life. Consider the world we could live in if all of our local and global leaders, if all of our personal and professional friends and foes, recognized the defeasibility of their beliefs and acted accordingly. That sure sounds like progress to me. But of course I could be wrong."
“Crisis-Induced Devotion” and the Importance of Church-State Separation
Think back to your school days, when your class would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. If you looked around the classroom during the exercise (and of course most of us did from time to time, even though we were supposed to be focused on the flag), would you see a room filled with fine young patriots, standing upright with hands squarely over hearts, reciting the words with great seriousness and solemnity, pondering the meaning of each phrase?
If your school was like mine, it probably fell a bit short of such a patriotic ideal. Slouched, half-awake students, mumbling the words and giving little thought to their meaning, were as common as the upright patriots. In the lower grades, terms like “allegiance” and “indivisible” were often mispronounced and misunderstood. By high school the exercise had lost much of its mystique, not because kids are unpatriotic, but mainly because the pledge was seen as rote recitation that was required by authority figures.
Perhaps recalling such lackluster attitudes from their school days, some people seem to think governmental religious references are meaningless, not worth disputing. Every now and then, for example, when I’m discussing a church-state issue, someone will throw out a question that has nothing to do with legalities, but instead raises a more practical angle: Why are you fighting over this? Does it really matter? The issue might be “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, a crèche on a public park, or “In God We Trust” as the national motto: “What’s the big deal?”
There are many reasons why church-state separation is a big deal (indeed, the fact that a valid constitutional claim is being raised should, in itself, qualify the matter as a legitimate “big deal”), but there is a psychological component to such issues that sometimes gets overlooked amid all the legal analysis. This component, which I call “crisis-induced devotion” (or “CID”), illustrates why governmental religiosity, while sometimes appearing benign and unimportant, is always at least potentially dangerous.
CID shows us that what appears mundane, given the right stimulus, can quickly become extremely intense. CID occurs, for example, when a person who is not particularly religious or patriotic suddenly becomes fervent about their religion or patriotism due to some external crisis that triggers intense devotion.
A case in point is that of Jessica Ahlquist, a young student from Cranston, Rhode Island, who initiated a church-state lawsuit in 2011 to remove a prayer banner hanging from her public high school’s gymnasium. The lawsuit, perceived by her community as challenging God and religion, provided a psychological stimulus that caused her classmates, who had previously been as outwardly apathetic about religion and patriotism as any other public school population, to suddenly experience a surge of righteousness. During her homeroom recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, classmates turned to her and shouted “Under God!” to emphasize that they - and their religious views - were patriotic, and that Jessica was an outsider…
Topless Women in Public Not Breaking the Law Says NYPD
Ladies of New York , you are free to walk bare-breasted through the city! New York City’s 34,000 police officers have been instructed that, should they encounter a woman in public who is shirtless but obeying the law, they should not arrest her. This is a good step towards gender parity in public spaces.
This decision means that breast exposure is not considered public lewdness, indecent exposure, or disorderly conduct. It also notes that, should a crowd form around a topless woman, the officer should instruct the crowd to disperse and then respond appropriately if it does not. Relative coverage is no longer a factor.
This policy shift comes after several years of litigation and protest. In the 1992 case People v. Ramona Santorelli and Mary Lou Schloss, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of two women who were arrested with five others for exposing their breasts in a Rochester park, holding the law void as discriminatory. The ruling was put to the test in 2005, when Jill Coccaro bared her breasts on Delancey Street in New York, citing the 1992 decision, and was detained for twelve hours. She subsequently successfully sued the city for $29,000.
In 2007, Go Topless, a national organization supporting gender equality in shirtlessness laws, established Go Topless Day. Dozens of women protest – often topless – in thirty cities around the United States, promoting equal rights to be shirtless. Protests usually include chants of “Free your breasts. Free your minds” and a song “Let ‘em Breathe” to the tune of the Beatles’ “Let it Be.”
While some who have witnessed these events have suggested that “[t]his is extreme liberalism and why America’s in decline” or “[i]t’s degrading to women,” others have been supportive. One man even said he would encourage his wife to join them.
Though bare-breasted women might shock the sensibilities of some in the public, it is encouraging to see the police responding positively to gender bias, even on such a seemingly small scale. After all, no one thinks twice about a man shirtless on a summer day. However, the female nipple or chest is still considered “lewd.” By reminding its officers of this, the NYPD is publicly declaring that it will no longer perpetuate unconstitutional gender discrimination, a standard to which all law enforcement should be held and a decision for which it should be applauded.