Sunday, August 21, 2011

Just Skeptics, Conspiracy Skeptic

"Just Skeptics" has released a new episode and Gavin, Janice & Co. discussed various legal and religious issues.  I do not think this was planned to be a concept episode, but just what was on the Google Reader feed that week.  The religion and law topics discussed were the American Atheist suit over the steel beam cross at the 9/11 memorial site, Swiss banning of new minaret construction, the French burqa ban, and charity status of non-religious groups in Britain.  For the most part, the panel stayed on topic, and refreshingly the panel did not universally agree on each topic.  (I am not advocating some trumped up 24/7 news channel argument for argument's sake in podcasts.  All of these panelist podcasts sure do have a lot of agreeing going on.)

The 9/11 memorial site steel cross I found particularly interesting.  The panel did seem to think that the inclusion of the cross, as a religious symbol would almost certainly be found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Whether the litigation was worth it, and how it might make atheists look like 'dicks' might make the whole enterprise a bad idea.  However, reflecting upon this while walking the dog, I am not so sure it so clearly would not pass constitutional muster.  Dusting off the cobwebs of ConLaw from 15 years ago, I suspect given the context of the steel cross it may be permissible.  The context of religious symbols sponsored by a government entity is the key to each case.  There is the famous reindeer rule for government-sponsored nativity scenes on public property during Christmas.  If the scene of the newborn baby Jesus is the sole decoration on the town square, the court has held this is an impermissible establishment of religion.  However, if along with the scene is a reindeer next to it, and perhaps a jolly ole Santa, then it is no longer violating the establishment clause, but just considered a nice decoration to celebrate the season.

In the 9/11 memorial case, I suspect the courts would find that in the context of a memorial for 9/11, and that it is an iconic symbol of that terrible day which fits more in with overall remembrance of the day and not promoting a religious view. I could very well be wrong.  I am not a constitutional lawyer, but I suspect I am the right track.  Also, as it is not any old cross but the 'miraculous' cross from 9/11 is likely to be viewed by the court as just an artifact of that dark day and conveniently nothing more.  Courts do like to brush off difficult situations when possible.  Plus, I just can't imaging the Roberts' Court striking down a steel cross at the 9/11 site as improper. **

The panel also engaged in an interesting discussion of the burqa ban in France.  Apparently, the ban on burqas has been a boon to the British tourist industry as Muslim tourists who refuse to remove their burqas visit the U.K. instead of France.  The panel engaged in an interesting discussion on the pros and cons of the French ban coming to no firm conclusion.  It seems to me in the States the near Universal opinion was against the burqa ban as a violation of speech, choice, and religion on the left, right, and center.  Perhaps it is because we are quite used to allowing religiously mandated clothing go without comment.  Certain Jews wear the kippa and Orothodox Jewish men have the curls in their hair.  Mennonite women wear long skirts and the men plain style shirts, etc. etc.  I must confess I basically think the whole ban is ridiculous.  It's not that I think it is a great thing to do, and it is a sign of oppression. On the other hand, there are a lot of ridiculous things people do such as branding and odd piercings and jewelry but it is not banned.  The panel does do a quite thorough discussion and brings up many interesting points.  It was a good listen.

Closer to home than Manchester, Karl Mamer released a new "Conspiracy Skeptic" podcast with Stuart Robbins, PhD in astronomy.  From now on, that is Dr. Robbins to you and me.  Dr. Robbins came on to basically gab with Karl about various past topics such as Billy Meier and his American bulldog of an advocate Michael Horn.  They also discussed Dr. Robbins spring talk at Colorado Skepticamp.  What it is like to have to defend an Astronomy thesis.  They also discussed the recently released information on possible water on Mars and what it means for the Richard C. Hoaglands of the world.

In many ways, despite the varied topics discussed, this quite possibly was one of the best efforts by Karl.  It was just a naturally flowing conversation the entire time, which was interesting at every turn.  Oh yes, and Dr. Robbins has a new podcast he hosts "Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast," which I shall endeavor to listen to in the near future and report.

Karl spills the beans on my next planned appearance on his fine podcast.  This time with contributions from the fair and wise better half, Lady St. Whitehall.  Stay tuned.

**the editor, also an attorney, agrees that the court may not be so quick to find the cross improper, but thinks my reasoning may not be on all fours.  

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