The Real Origins of the Religious Right, and Why It Matters

The Religious Right is flexing its powerful muscles these days; in the last month alone they have gained the right to prayers at school, forced public funding for religious institutions, and repealed a half-century-old right to choice for women. The tradition of separation of church and state espoused by our founding fathers seems to be in deep jeopardy. How have we arrived at this juncture?

One of the enduring myths in recent history is the fiction that the Religious Right galvanized as a political movement in response to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Evangelicals, however, considered abortion a Catholic issue throughout the 1970s. Most evangelicals were silent when the Roe decision was handed down, and those who did comment actually applauded the ruling. The real origins of the Religious Right may surprise you.

Randall Balmer holds the John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth College, the oldest endowed professorship there. He has followed an interesting trajectory in life. He is an Episcopal priest who was born into a Evangelical Christian family and raised in that subculture, which was constructed defensively to avoid interaction with people outside of the subculture. His education exposed him to wider worldviews. He grew away from that subculture and became a recognized expert on American religious communities.

Two days ago, he gave a talk to the Columbia University community titled The Real Origins of the Religious Right, and Why It Matters.

Click here to view a YouTube recording of his talk.

Butterfly McQueen – Free from the Slavery of Religion

Butterfly McQueen pictureThelma “Butterfly” McQueen, known for her role in the as Prissy, Scarlett O’Hara’s maid, in the film Gone With The Wind, was a outspoken atheist most of her life. She was featured in a bus ad campaign by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in 2009.

In 1989, the FFRF honored her with its Freethought Heroine Award.  She told a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion. I’m an atheist, and Christianity appears to me to be the most absurd imposture of all the religions, and I’m puzzled that so many people can’t see through a religion that encourages irresponsibility and bigotry.”

She railed against being typecast as a maid and roles that were demeaning to African-American actors.  Even though she could not attend the premiere of Gone With The Wind in 1939, held at a whites-only theater, she was a guest of honor at the 1989 50th anniversary event of the film.

Butterfly McQueen never married and split her time between New York City and Augusta, Georgia.  At aged 64, McQueen received a bachelor’s degree in political science from City College of New York, in 1975.  In an tragic accident with a kerosene heater, Ms. McQueen was burned and died December 22, 1995, at age 84.

A Youtube video recorded in 1989, shows a profile of McQueen.  In Celebrities In Hell (Warren Allen Smith, sequel to Who’s Who In Hell) she is quoted “They say the streets are going to be beautiful in Heaven. Well, I’m trying to make the streets beautiful here … When it’s clean and beautiful, I think America is heaven. And some people are hell.”

Religious Freedom Day

January 16th is the 236th anniversary of the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. That statute became the basis for the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and led to freedom of religion for all Americans.

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom reads in part:

… that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical;

II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. …

For the full text, see the Founders Online page.

Happy Juneteenth!

On June 19, 1865 — nearly nine decades after our Nation’s founding, and more than 2 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally received word that they were free from bondage.

June 19th was declared a federal holiday, the newest federal holiday since 1983, by President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on June 18, 2021. Juneteenth National Independence Day is

to acknowledge and celebrate the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of Black Americans, and commit together to eradicate systemic racism that still undermines our founding ideals and collective prosperity.

Juneteenth has been observed by various communities since 1866 as Jubilee Day, Black Independence Day, and Emancipation Day.  Celebrations include picnics, rodeos, street fairs, cookouts, family reunions, park parties, historical reenactments and blues festivals.

Juneteenth Flag image
Juneteenth Flag

In 1997, activist Ben Haith, founder of the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (NJCF), created the Juneteenth flag, which was further refined by illustrator Lisa Jeanne Graf. In 2000, the flag was first hoisted at the Roxbury Heritage State Park in Boston by Haith. The star at the center represents Texas being the last state where its local African American slaves were freed, and the extension of freedom for all African Americans throughout the whole nation. The burst around the star represents a nova and the curve represents a horizon, standing for a new era for African Americans. The red, white, and blue colors represent the American flag, which shows that African Americans and their enslaved ancestors are Americans, and the national belief in liberty and justice for all citizens.

As President Biden remarked when he signed Senate Bill 475:

It’s a reminder that our work to root out hate never ends — because hate only hides, it never fully goes away. It hides. And when you breathe oxygen under that rock, it comes out.

And that’s why we must understand that Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work to have to bring true equity and racial justice into American society, which we can do.

In short, this day doesn’t just celebrate the past; it calls for action today.

As many of us first learn of the Tulsa race massacre and the Red Summer, it is obvious there is much work to be done.  Celebrating Juneteenth is a step in the right direction.

Persistence

Percy Lavon Julian was the embodiment of persistence. Julian was an American research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine, plus a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.

Julian attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, when the college and town were segregated, graduating in 1920 as a Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian.  He attended Harvard University and obtained an M.S. in chemistry, but the school withdrew his teaching assistantship, preventing him from completing a Ph.D. there.  Later while teaching at Howard University, Julian received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to continue his graduate work at the University of Vienna, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1931. 

Returning to a teaching position at Howard University, Julian became embroiled in university politics and a personal scandal that forced him to resign.  He accepted a position at DePauw University where he completed the synthesis of physostigmine, a drug for treating glaucoma.  He left DePauw in 1936 when he was denied a professorship because he was African-American.  After being denied jobs with DuPont and the Institute of Paper Chemistry, Julian was offered a position of director of research at Glidden’s Soya Products Division in Chicago.

In 1950, Julian moved into Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, the first African-American family to do so, but not before his new home was fire-bombed!  Later his home was attacked with dynamite.  Soon after these incidents the community rallied behind them.

Julian’s work yielded over 100 patents and he work includes synthesis of cortisone, producing hormones including progesterone, steroids, vitamins, amino acids and other chemicals mostly from soybean extracts.

The PBS series Nova produced a docudrama about Percy Julian called the Forgotten Genius.  In the film, historian James Anderson says “His story is a story of great accomplishment, of heroic efforts and overcoming tremendous odds…a story about who we are and what we stand for and the challenges that have been there and the challenges that are still with us.”

Darwin Day 2021

Packing the Hub
Packing the Hub

The Secular Hub held it’s grand opening on February 12, 2013.  Eight years later we could not have our traditional Darwin Day/Hub Birthday event.  2020 was a strange year for the Hub, stopping all in-person events at the 3100 Downing St. location in March.  We let our lease expire and moved into a storage Pod in December – our last event at 3100 Downing St.

Of course February 12, 1809 was Charles Darwin’s birthday as well as Abraham Lincoln (same year) and Olivia Hooker.  Who???

Olivia Juliette Hooker was born February 12, 1915 in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Hooker was one of the last known survivors of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, and the first African-American woman to enter the U.S. Coast Guard in February 1945.

In 1947, she received her master’s from the Teachers College of Columbia University, and in 1961 she received her PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Rochester, with her dissertation on the learning abilities of children with Down syndrome.

Olivia Hooker in 2011

On February 9, 2015, Kirsten Gillibrand spoke in Congress to “pay tribute” to Hooker. In the same year, the Olivia Hooker Dining Facility on the Staten Island Coast Guard facility was named in her honor. A training facility at the Coast Guard’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. was also named after her that same year. On May 20, 2015, President Barack Obama recognized Hooker’s Coast Guard service and legacy while in attendance at the 134th Commencement of the United States Coast Guard Academy. On November 11, 2018, Google honored her by telling her story as part of a Google Doodle for the Veterans Day holiday. Hooker died of natural causes in her home in White Plains, New York on November 21, 2018, at the age of 103.

Officially Homeless!

As of January 1, 2021, the Secular Hub is homeless!  Since we have not met at the Secular Hub’s location since March 2020 and our lease was expiring at the end of 2020, the Board of Directors decided that it was best to save our funds for a new location.

Packing the Hub
Packing the Hub

A team of volunteers braved the COVID-19 virus to pack the Hub’s belongings into a storage pod.  Thanks to Bill, Ron, Becky, Dana, Marty, both Joes, Jesse, Jonathan, Danelle, Steve, Brandon, Jeff, and Richard.  Forgive me if I did not mention your name because you all look alike in masks!  Thank you again for your help in dislocating the Hub.

Packing the Pod
Packing the Pod

Loading the Pod
Loading the Pod

Packing our belongings into a Pod was kind of like doing a 3D jigsaw puzzle. I hope it does not end up looking like multiple puzzles in the same box.

Then a couple of days later, Paul and I said good-bye to the Pod as it was loaded on a truck to be stored elsewhere.

Our last act of helping the homeless at this location was two people that showed up asking for help.  We gave them some sweaters and blanket from the AHH barrel.  They also received a box of water and food.

Empty Hub
Empty Hub.

It is sad to see the Hub emptied out.  But it is a step to moving to a new location.  My hope is next year at this time when we can gather in person, we can be in a new larger location that better accommodates our goals.  You can help us reach this goal by donating to our Building Fund.

R.I.P.-R.B.G.

On September 18, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, died from complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington, D.C., at the age of 87. The Supreme Court may not be the same for decades to come! Anyone that says nothing has changed in the last fifty years, only has to look at Ginsburg’s history as an academic, creating and working for ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, and finally on the Supreme Court to see that progress was made by this extraordinary person.

More recently, Ginsburg gained status as a “pop culture icon”. Ginsburg’s profile began to rise after O’Connor’s retirement in 2006 left Ginsburg as the only serving female justice. Her increasingly fiery dissents, led to the creation of “The Notorious R.B.G.”, an internet meme on Tumblr comparing her to rapper The Notorious B.I.G., created by law student Shana Knizhnik. Knizhnik later turned the blog into a book titled Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg told Nina Totenberg in a 2014 interview, she had a “large supply” of Notorious R.B.G. t-shirts, which she gives as gifts.

If you need a role model, you can find few better that Ruth Bader Ginsburg!  It is up to us to carry on her legacy.

Women’s Equality Day

Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house.
Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house.

Women’s Equality Day, first designated by Congress in 1973 and proclaimed by Richard Nixon, the proclamation read in part:

The struggle for women’s suffrage, however, was only the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our Nation’s life. In recent years, we have made other giant strides by attacking sex discrimination through our laws and by paving new avenues to equal economic opportunity for women. Today, in virtually every sector of our society, women are making important contributions to the quality of American life….While we are making great strides to eliminate outright job discrimination because of sex in the Federal Government, we must recognize that people’s attitudes cannot be changed by laws alone. There still exist elusive prejudices born of mores and customs that stand in the way of progress for women. We must do all that we can to overcome these barriers against what is fair and right….

Forty-seven years later and 100 years since women gained the right to vote in the United States, there a still many prejudices that block women in our society.  Change has occurred, too slow for some, too fast for others, but it will continue.  It is up to us to make it happen.

National Day of Reason

Expressing support for the designation of May 7, 2020, as a “National Day of Reason” and recognizing the central importance of reason in the betterment of humanity.

National Day of ReasonThe National Day of Reason is a response to the Federal Government’s National Day of Prayer which is enshrined in law.  Donald Trump, being the law-abiding President dutifully proclaimed today for prayer.  What about the approximately 23 percent of people in the United States who aren’t religious and don’t pray.  That is why we need the National Day of Reason!

With about 80% of the nation presumably praying for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, why does it continue?  Basically because there is no evidence that prayer ever work for anything, aside from the benefit of meditation.

Only science and reason will defeat the pandemic.  It is science that is used to create a vaccine.  It is science that creates the tests for the disease to help manage the pandemic and help our economy to recover.  So where is our commitment to science and reason by our representative government?  Buried in the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.  In the spirit of the day, I give you H.Res.947  that states:

Expressing support for the designation of May 7, 2020, as a “National Day of Reason” and recognizing the central importance of reason in the betterment of humanity.

Whereas the application of reason has been the essential precondition for humanity’s extraordinary scientific, medical, technological, and social progress since the modern Enlightenment;

Whereas reason provides vital hope today for confronting the environmental crises of our day, including the civilizational emergency of climate change, and for cultivating the rule of law, democratic institutions, justice, and peace among nations;

Whereas irrationality, magical thinking, and superstition have undermined the national effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and reason is fundamental to creating an effective coordinated response to beat the virus involving the Federal Government, the States, and the scientific and medical communities;

Whereas America’s Founders insisted upon the primacy of reason and knowledge in public life, and drafted the Constitution to prevent official establishment of religion and to protect freedom of thought, speech, and inquiry in civil society;

Whereas James Madison, author of the First Amendment and fourth President of the United States, stated that “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty”, and “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives”; and

Whereas, May 7, 2020, would be an appropriate date to designate as a “National Day of Reason”: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives

(1) supports the designation of a “National Day of Reason”; and

(2) encourages all citizens, residents, and visitors to join in observing this day and focusing on the central importance of reason, critical thought, the scientific method, and free inquiry to resolving social problems and promoting the welfare of humankind.

Well said!