October 15th 2011

The Marriage Amendment and the First Amendment

[Letter to Minneapolis Star Tribune]
By MarieAlena Castle

The Catholic bishops in Minnesota are planning an all-out fight to pass the amendment against same-sex marriage. Whatever happened to the First Amendment? It prohibits an establishment of religion. Putting sectarian religious beliefs into law is an establishment of religion of the most egregious kind. It not only violates the other clause that protects the free exercise of religion of other-believers, it hurts a lot of people besides.

There are only two questions to ask: 1. Does the amendment put a religious belief into law? Yes! 2. Is there a valid secular justification for doing so? No! There are only religious arguments to be made for the amendment. The “secular” arguments are just plain silly and without factual support. The amendment is a clear violation of the First Amendment. It must be defeated if our basic freedoms are to be protected from further erosion by the religious right.

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October 9th 2011

Archbishop Nienstedt & Same-Sex Marriage

By MarieAlena Castle
[Letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune]

According to Archbishop John Nienstedt’s letter on Oct. 8, the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage does not rely on religious beliefs but on anatomy. Since male and female genitalia fit together, and fitting them together often results in offspring, that must be nature’s purpose – it’s sole purpose. And because there are offspring there must be marriage. Because there is marriage, government has the duty to oversee and protect that arrangement by limiting it to one man and one woman. (Lots of non sequiturs here.) As Nienstedt says, the Church “finds its logic in the complementarity of the human anatomy, as well as the male/female psyche and in the propagation of the human species.”

What he means by the male/female psyche in this context is anyone’s guess. If it’s the emotional aspect of sexuality, that psyche seems to be operating rather nicely for same-sex couples as well. As for anatomical complementarity, people of all sexual orientations have found that there is more than one route to complementarity. If nature was purposeful and wanted sex to be limited to one form of male-female complementarity, there wouldn’t be all these other anatomical options available – some even useful for preventing unwanted propagation.

One is almost tempted to think nature actually is purposeful and finds it useful in natural selection terms to provide a variety of sexual work-arounds to enable us humans to control this whole sexual orientation/anatomical/psyche/propagation business to our advantage.

And speaking of sexual purposes, I don’t recall ever reading any Vatican pronouncements about the female clitoris. Unlike the male penis, which has three distinct and useful purposes, the clitoris has only one – pleasure. It has no complementarity function. Yet there it is, conforming fully to natural law, doing nothing but providing the one thing that has historically made the Vatican nervous – sex-related pleasure. No wonder there is silence on this. The Catholic hierarchy needs to study a good sex manual and something on sexual evolution before they expound on a topic they obviously know nothing about.

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September 22nd 2011

Personal Sacrifices to Balance Budget

By MarieAlena Castle
[Letter to Minneapolis Star Tribune]

I am all for shared sacrifice if we get rid of the freeloaders. I will gladly pay more taxes if they do not include making up for revenue lost by unjustified property tax exemptions for nonprofit organizations, both secular and religious, from Planned Parenthood to Catholic Charities. Although some provide needed social services, most if not all do it under government contract, making them essentially businesses. Some churches provide no significant social services at all. Profit making businesses also provide goods and services under government contract, and they pay property taxes. Nonprofits that lease their property actually do pay property taxes, since the tax liability is included in the cost. Multi-million-dollar mega-churches with high-living clergy hardly need a tax exemption handout.

Do nonprofits do some good? Yes, but so do many businesses, as anyone facing a car breakdown or plumbing disaster knows. Do they teach values (especially said of churches)? Yes, but so do families – the primary source of moral guidance – and they are not tax exempt.

Tax-exempt property in Minnesota is valued at $84 billion. Tax it all (except government buildings, of course.) Nonprofits with income primarily from donations will be reimbursed for their property taxes by donors who feel their work is worthwhile. If it is not worth donor assistance, it is not worth a tax exemption either.

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September 20th 2011

Same-Sex Marriage and Natural Law

By MarieAlena Castle
[Letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune]

Michael Musielewicz (Sept. 19) says critics of the Catholic Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage should either accept the Church’s moral consistency or argue against natural law. The problem here is that the Church’s “natural law” doesn’t exist in reality.

We do have a natural law, but it is simply a description of how nature works, which we get from observation and testing. Sexuality, driven by evolution’s profligate and varied processes, is not rigidly heterosexual, as can be observed throughout the animal kingdom. Homosexuality is just one of the harmless variations. The case for same-sex marriage rests firmly on this observable law of nature.

There is also an erroneous assumption by those who believe in a natural law given by a supernatural lawgiver that the way nature works reflects a purpose. Since heterosexual sex usually produces offspring, that is assumed to be nature’s purpose. But nature has no purpose, only consequences, some we perceive as good, some bad, depending on their effect on us. People deal with these consequences to create purposes according to their needs, accepting some, rejecting others. The consequences of sex include pleasure, the transmission of microbial life (disease), and the transmission of human life. So what purpose do we create from these consequences? Simple observation shows the primary purpose humans create is pleasure. The transmission of disease and human life are side effects, with disease fought off relentlessly and human life usually welcomed (but sometimes not).

Until humans figured out where babies came from, sex most certainly was naturally directed by sexual orientation, solely because it was enjoyable. Once paternity was understood, the picture changed drastically. Although the history of marriage shows many forms and rationales (including same-sex marriage), an overriding reason for its institutionalization was male interest in controlling women to ensure no-guesswork paternity and, therefore, inheritance, economic aggrandizement, and ruling authority. Women became men’s property, as noted in the Ten Commandments and enforced by all religions until recently.

With such abuse of women diminishing, marriage essentially legalizes a sexuality-based bond without regard for procreation. Although this remains essential for some religions, the interests of religion and government are different. Religions are free to set their own rules, but government is concerned with issues beyond procreation, such as financial and personal responsibilities, inheritance laws, medical care and visitation rights, child custody, and so on. It is socially advantageous to provide these benefits, through marriage, for loving, committed adults of any sexual orientation. It also conforms to the natural law.

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September 11th 2011

Letter re Pearlstein’s op-ed piece

By MarieAlena Castle
[The Minneapolis Star Tribune printed this letter.]
Mitch Pearlstein has it all wrong in his op-ed piece on broken families (Sept. 4). Sending boys to a voucher-supported parochial school taught by nuns to help them become better husband material won’t work. The problem is the young girls too ill-equipped for parenthood who keep producing those poorly adjusted boys by having unprotected sex. Those girls are the ones who need help, and lots of it. They need to learn how to develop the self-esteem that will empower them to control their lives. That control has little chance of happening if they don’t understand the importance of contraception. Parochial schools are no help there.

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September 11th 2011

Religion & Democracy

By MarieAlena Castle
[Letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune]
Erik Thone (Sept. 10) is correct when he says the First Amendment guarantees free expression of religion. Religious believers have an absolute right to express their beliefs in public. However, the First Amendment also prohibits the establishment of religion. That means “no law shall be passed” that imposes anyone’s religious beliefs on all of us. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the religious right is trying to do. It’s what our “culture war” is all about.
Our Constitution is there to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. A lot of people would be thankful for that protection if a religion not of their choosing attained majority political power. Does anyone want Sharia law, or the dogmas of the Vatican, or the puritanical views of the Christian fundamentalists imposed on them? No? Then express your beliefs all you want, but leave the government out of it.

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September 7th 2011

Letter re Criticism of Catholic Church

By MarieAlena Castle
[To Minneapolis Star Tribune]

Mike Torchia (Sept. 6) objects to the Catholic Church being criticized for its “out of touch” views on sex and marriage. Those views would not be criticized if they were directed only to Catholics. But they are not. The Church seeks to impose those views on all of us by law and continually interferes with our political system to do this.

We are governed by a secular Constitution and religious dogmas have no place in our legal system. Not only do they establish religion and violate the religious freedom of those who do not share those beliefs, they have no valid secular justification. They are, in fact, individually punitive and socially harmful—especially the Vatican’s opposition to contraception. In this overpopulated world, that is worse than irresponsible – it is insane.

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August 13th 2011

Religion in Public Life

By MarieAlena Castle

[Letter to Minneapolis Star Tribune]

As an atheist I have to agree with Paul Horowitz (August 13, “How to respond to an overly Christian presidential hopeful”) that the religious views of candidates should be discussed publicly rather than attempting to silence them.

I am far less interested in Gov. Rick Perry’s prayer rally than in whether he would seek to impose his religious beliefs on everyone if he were President. This is, after all, what the “culture war” is all about. The religious right wants its views on same-sex marriage, birth control and abortion, stem cell research, evolution-denial, end-of-life decision making, etc., to be reflected in our laws. These are a blatant establishment of religion that not only serve no valid secular purpose but actually cause considerable, demonstrable harm to individuals and society.

In a constitutionally secular democracy, we should not be forced to live — and sometimes die — by unverifiable religious doctrines we don’t accept and may even abhor. So, yes, let Gov. Perry pray all he wants to, but challenge him forcefully on any intentions he may have to impose his religious beliefs on all of us.

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July 20th 2011

The Minnesota Shutdown: The Real Story

By MarieAlena Castle

[I sent this to the Wall Street Journal in response to an op-ed piece by David Strom on the Minnesota shutdown.]

David Strom didn’t get it right—not even close—in his dismissal of the Minnesota government shutdown as no big deal (Opinion, July 16). What we have on exhibit here is another standoff in the culture war that has crippled our political system since the 1970s. That is the real story. Without understanding it, the current insanity makes no sense. A hard ideology has set in that opposes the growing secularization of society in which laws and public policies are based on what promotes the common good in a diverse culture. We now have a right wing fundamentalist movement determined at all costs to make their archaic theological views the law of the land, allied with a tea party movement that acts like a lynch mob out to destroy any government that taxes and spends. The fact is, ALL governments tax and spend; it’s inescapable for any organized society. The question is: Who gets taxed, how much, to spend on what, and why? This is not being answered, so we Minnesotans have no idea what effect any budget would have on us. The plan that ended the shutdown relies only on funds borrowed from the future. So the crisis is just put off, not resolved.

As for the current skirmish in this culture war, yes, many people were not affected by the shutdown. It was limited deliberately, by court order, to inflict as little damage as possible while budget negotiations continued. Far more informative is the nature of the negotiations that resulted in the shutdown. The media told us almost nothing of substance, reporting mostly on unhelpful name-calling. (Just what does a Democratic “spending spree” consist of?) Little attention was given to the insistence by the Republicans, right up to the end, that their social agenda be accepted as part of any deal. This included non-budget demands for further restricting abortions and stem cell research, plus changes in redistricting and voting procedures that would guarantee Republican control of the legislature for decades. If not for these non-budget items, which Gov. Dayton refused to accept, a budget would have been agreed on weeks ago.

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June 26th 2011

Neither homophobia nor religion justifies same-sex restrictions

By MarieAlena Castle

[Sent to the Minneapolis Star Tribune]

The commentary by Bill Maxwell (June 21) charges the black community with homophobia for opposing same-sex marriage. The letter by John George (June 25) says, no, it’s not homophobia, it’s their Christian/Muslim religious beliefs. Doesn’t matter. Neither is a valid reason for laws forbidding same-sex marriage. Our Constitution allows the freedom to be homophobic or to hold religious beliefs, but it does not allow those personal views to be imposed on everyone by law. Since there is no demonstrable secular justification for denying same-sex marriage, laws prohibiting it are inherently unconstitutional and should be declared so. We can then move on to more important issues.

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