The Marriage Trap, Part 2

Recently members of the secular community here in Oklahoma, many of them our leaders, have been reminding us that they are ordained in the state, authorized to perform marriages as an ordained “minister” under Oklahoma law, and are willing to do so for non-believers. They, along with several churches and religious leaders, have been doing this in response to recent legislation and made it clear that they will perform marriage ceremonies for atheists in order to allow us the opportunity to comply with this bill.

I have three words for my leadership:




As I’ve mentioned before, a bill establishing new restrictions on how marriages are licensed in Oklahoma has been introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature. In its original form HB 1125 by Rep. Todd Russ gave the authority to issue marriage licenses exclusively to ordained pastors, ministers, and other religious authority figures. But while the fact that the bill was subsequently amended to once again add judges to the list of folks allowed to issue marriage licenses, along with reports that the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, are positive signs that marriage won’t be restricted to the religious any time soon in Oklahoma, these reminders that there are secular officiants out there willing to perform pseudo-religious ceremonies for non-believers are not helpful in the fight against this abhorrent legislation. 


The State has no compelling public policy reason to limit marriage licenses to those undergoing religious ceremonies or that said marriages must be sanctioned by real or pretend religious leaders, and leaders in the secular community shouldn’t be giving tacit approval to this effort by announcing they are “ordained”. The impulse here is, I assume, to let us all know that non-believers can avoid this blatantly unconstitutional action by the State by participating in a quasi-religious ceremony officiated by a phony religious leader. But that’s the wrong impulse. Our leadership should be calling this action out for what it is: an egregious breach of the wall of separation between Church and State.


Look, I understand that there are lots of folks out there who’ve left their faith but want to keep the ceremonies, rites and events that came with that faith. There are others who like big parties or want the traditional ceremony without the religious talk. I think it is marvelous that there are people willing to perform those ceremonies, and I’ve recommended several of them to friends who want this service. My best friend is ordained to perform marriage ceremonies (and an atheist), and my own husband is halfway to being ordained as a Dudist Priest. It’s all wonderful so long as participation in such activity is a choice.

But the State is attempting to take away that choice. Making it easier for the State to do this and trying to divert the damage this legislation does by offering these services to the community should not be the actions of our leadership. I know people have their heart in the right place here; I believe they are trying to mitigate an ugly action by being positive. But seriously, stop. Just stop. 

I know we can all just go through the motions, pretending to uphold the spirit of the law while patting ourselves on the back about how we’ve fooled the powers that be and faked our way through their illegal requirements. But its phony, and nobody should be forced to fake their way through the most important and life-changing decision they will ever make. They certainly shouldn’t be forced to do so by the State.


Our leadership should be representing the best interests of the community, and in this case they’ve failed. They should be standing up to make it harder for the State to implement violations of the Constitution, not easier. Start fighting for the rights of the people to be free from government imposition of religious ceremonies in order to access civil rights and privileges. It’s what a leader would do.

EDIT:  It occurs to me that as a co-organizer of the Lawton Area Secular Society I should include myself in this failure. I did write a personal blog post about this legislation at the time it was introduced, but LASS should have issued a statement on it as well. That is my failure and I’ll own it. 


P.S. This bill was originally intended to prevent same-sex marriage equality by putting marriage exclusively in the hands of the Church. I guess the authors didn’t realize there are literally dozens and dozens of ministers in the state more than willing to perform marriages and issue marriage licenses for homosexual couples. If this bill passes it will actually have exactly the opposite outcome than the original intent. Legislating is hard when you only see the world from one viewpoint, isn’t it?

Lessons From The Leadership Underground

For about 6 years I was the president of the elementary athletic association at my kid’s school. The school couldn’t afford to operate an after school sports program for the elementary kids, so the parents started one to provide opportunities for the little guys to play baseball. When my kid started coach pitch the reigning president was stepping down, so I stepped up.

It was a terrifically easy job that appealed to every organizational and helpful instinct I had. They had no formal structure, so I wrote new bylaws for them. I filed for and got 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the organization. I picked out uniforms, bought the equipment I thought they needed, decided on and organized fundraisers, the whole shebang. There was little to do on an ongoing basis, so myself and the Treasurer basically ran the whole thing ourselves, with little to no assistance from any of the other parents. This suited us just fine, since doing it ourselves was easier than involving others.

I thought we were cooking with gas. The organization was expanding, adding new members every year. Our growth was phenomenal. We had more kids playing baseball than ever before, with new equipment and new uniforms. Everyone was having a blast! I only realized later what a huge mistake I was making.

See, the problem with having so few people involved in organizing and running the group was that we had no oversight. I didn’t even exercise any oversight in the Treasurer’s activities, I simply assumed she, like myself, was doing everything she was supposed to and needed no supervision. I certainly didn’t think I needed supervision, so why should I think she did too? Big mistake.

Turns out she wasn’t depositing the money like she was supposed to. I only found out because a check bounced and the bank called me. She had all the money stashed at her house, but she wasn’t depositing it, and I never noticed. And because nobody else was involved in operations outside of her and myself, nobody else noticed either.

My arrogance in my abilities to handle the organizations operations without help nearly drove us over a cliff. Had I involved more people in the day to day operations, more eyes would have been on the events. More questions would have been asked. More transparency, accountability and frankly honesty would have automatically happened.

Limiting opportunities for people to become involved created other problems as well. About the time I found out about the Treasurer’s problems, I was dealing with a personality conflict between a coach and a parent. Turns out they had a long running feud going back ages that I was unaware of. Their season-long argument really poisoned the well.

Once the next season rolled around the old coach chose not to head the team again, despite the fact that the feuding parent had moved out of town. It was nearly impossible to find a new coach for that team. It wasn’t just that nobody was willing to wade into the poisoned waters, it was because no one else was INVESTED in the team or the organization. It was easier to just move their kid to another team or just withdraw them completely. It took an enormous amount of negotiation, begging and nagging to finally, three weeks before first pitch, name a coach for the team. If I had involved more people in the day to day operations of the league, I have no doubt that we could have named a coach much sooner, because people would have WANTED to help out since they had invested time and effort beforehand. As it was they had no horse in the race, so to speak, so helping out wasn’t a priority.

The realization of just how badly I was leading the organization truly hit home my fifth year. I never intended to stay longer than that; five years is about when new leadership is needed for any organization. But when I looked around to recruit a potential replacement, I realized that nobody was prepared or willing to take the job. NOBODY!

It wasn’t because they weren’t smart, hard working or clever enough. It was because they weren’t involved, i.e. INVESTED in the organization enough to step up and take a leadership role. I had never asked anyone to become invested. I had taken all the responsibility for running the organization on myself, because it was easier.

Now, I was running the organization pretty well. Finances were improving every year, the numbers of kids involved was going up at a steady pace. We had expanded beyond baseball to add cheerleading and football. Fundraising was going like gangbusters. But I hadn’t involved anyone else in the operations. I hadn’t made any other person feel invested or even wanted in the organization. In other words, I wasn’t LEADING the organization.

I had to stay a sixth year just to start putting new people in place to take over. They needed to be trained, informed, involved, and it took a year to do that. I was lucky to find a great woman who was willing to become involved and invested, and she brought in more people who worked hard, learned, and they all went on to actually lead the organization to great success after my departure.

So for future reference, I bring you today’s Lessons In Leadership:

  1. Get your members involved. Remember that, unlike work where people are trying to get that promotion or raise, volunteer organizations offer no perks to anyone in exchange for their interest. Very few members will actually step up on their own and offer to work, so identify talented people in your membership and actively recruit them to get involved.
  2. Make opportunities to get involved obvious. It’s not enough to just announce once or twice when an opportunity is available, make sure your members have a list of opportunities available to them at all times so they can go to it on their own, and promote the hell out of the list.
  3. Have an easy, clear communication system in place to announce involvement opportunities and where people can get to know one another, and, more importantly, you can get to know them. This is frequently done these days online, with Google+, Facebook, Twitter and website forums all easy ways to keep your membership up to speed with projects.
  4. Train your replacement. Never assume you or any other member of leadership will be in that position forever, obviously that’s silly. Assume someone will need to be replaced in a leadership position regularly, and make sure others are being trained in those jobs beforehand. The true test of an organizations strength is when leadership changes. If you can manage the handover with a small learning curve and no abrupt changes in direction, you can know that the organization you lead is strong enough to continue into the future, even without you.
  5. Avoid simply informing your membership of future plans and projects. Try to bring the ideas to them as “rough drafts” or “brainstorming”, and get their input. The more of themselves they see in a project, the more invested they are in the project and the organization as a whole. Plus, you encourage new ideas and thoughts that may have escaped your notice.
  6. Be transparent and accountable. If something goes wrong, fess up to the members as soon as possible and make sure you’ve outlined what steps you are taking to rectify the situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Remember, secrecy rarely instills confidence among members, and discourages involvement by them. They will begin to see the organization as “yours” and feel like they have no place in it.

We all want to make our organizations stronger. We should be doing what we can to learn from others successes and failures, so I hope we can all share these with one another across the board in a way that strengthens us all.

LASS Finally Comes Out

Okay, I know it’s been a while since I wrote anything. I’m sorry. It is true that I’m pretty lazy, so postings will probably be few and far between. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing ANYTHING. As a matter of fact I, along with my good friend Kelli Vanpool, have been organizing a relatively new secular organization called Lawton Area Secular Society, which happens to be approaching it’s first anniversary on Memorial Day (yay!).

Anyhoo, since Lawton is attached at the brain to Ft. Sill, a U.S. Army base where soldiers practice bombing stuff (day and night, for weeks on end, till you ignore approaching thunderstorms because you assume it’s just millions of tax payer dollars at work again), we pay particular attention to the role religion has assumed in our military. Kelli, being ex-Army and married to an Army guy, is especially interested in it. So you can imagine how amused we were to see the stories being spread about Christians being court-martialed for expressing their beliefs! We decided to write something about it for the Lawton Constitution, our local paper, and I thought I’d share it with you. I have no idea if they’ll publish it, but I’ll keep y’all posted! So here’s what we wrote:

The internet rumor mill is working overtime trying to convince us all that loyal soldiers are being court-martialed for simply professing their Christian faith. Sounds terrible, right? Nobody should be persecuted for simply expressing their faith, especially here in the United States! How could something like that happen?

Well, the good news is that there isn’t a single verifiable instance of this happening, and if DoD regulations are enforced, there never will. Regulations specifically require commanding officers in our military services to protect the religious liberty rights of our service members, and to make reasonable accommodations for the expression of those religious beliefs. This guarantee of religious freedom is codified in Title 10 USC, sections 3073, 3547, 5142, and 8067. Free exercise of religious freedom for military personnel is further detailed in DoD Directive (DODD) 1300.17, “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services,” which describes the commander’s responsibility to provide for religious accommodation.

So why all the hoopla? Maybe it’s the second part of that rule – requests for accommodation should be approved, but only “when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline.” It’s becoming clear that the actions of a few devout service members, especially in the higher levels of the command structure, are edging close, if not crossing, this line.

Reported events at various military installations across the country show that some commanders and ranking service personnel have been using their religious beliefs as an excuse to harass, punish and haze others, especially those of a lower rank. Some of these reports include:

•In May 2010 soldiers attending training at Ft. Eustice in Virginia reported being confined to their quarters and ordered to do maintenance for opting out of attending a concert by Christian band BarlowGirl organized by the base command structure.

•Mandatory “spiritual Fitness Assessments” are commonly used to evaluate leadership and command skills, with required remediation for service members who are deemed “not spiritual enough”.

•There are numerous reports from soldiers suffering from PTSD who were referred to chaplains for counseling rather than licensed mental health professionals. Suffering soldiers are commonly told their mental health problems are a result of their lack of faith.

•In 2007 several senior officers, including generals, participated in a video promoting Christianity. These interviews were conducted in their Pentagon offices, during normal work hours, and they were all in full uniform. Three of these officers were allowed to retire with full benefits without any disciplinary action, and several others were subsequently promoted as high as three star general.

•At West Point, cadets report that officers “routinely equate resiliency and leadership ability with religious devotion”, and are told that including prayer in mandatory events is “what will be expected of you as officers”. At least one cadet reports having been asked by a superior officer during a formal development meeting “How can you have morals if you don’t believe in God?”

•At the Air Force Academy there is an underground group of more than 100 members, most self described Christians, who exaggerate their devoutness because they believe it’s necessary to be considered cadets in good standing. A recent survey at the academy shows that at more than 170 cadets face routine religious pressure, primarily from evangelical Christians, and fear reprisal if they complain about it.

Before we all assume these are just a handful of disgruntled disbelievers trying to stir up trouble for those they disagree with, Mikey Weinstein, founder of Military Religious Freedom Foundation, estimates 90% of mail he receives are from Christians seeking relief from evangelical or fundamental Christians.

It’s clear from even the most cursory review of these reports that there is a problem with some in the chain of command using their proselytization as a means of “recruiting” new members for their faith, and lower level service members feel they must comply or risk be punished or having their career endangered.

Members of the Armed Forces willingly surrender on a temporary basis certain free exercise rights when it impinges on military discipline and the successful completion of a military objective. Any activity that adversely affects unit cohesion, mission readiness or discipline, religiously based or not, is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including court martial. These regulations are in place to protect service members, not persecute them.

We applaud DoD’s reminder to it’s chain of command that aggressive proselytizing which lessens unit cohesion or infringes on a service member’s First Amendment rights is unacceptable in today’s military. We believe that military readiness can and has been damaged by the aggressive actions of some evangelicals in the military to browbeat their subordinates into embracing their own religious beliefs.

If any service member has experienced this type of discrimination, intimidation or punishment, we encourage them to contact either the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) or Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) for help. We appreciate and support all our brothers and sisters in the armed services, and hope that anyone who needs help seeks it out sooner rather than later.

Brenda Weber and Kellina VanPool
Organizers, Lawton Area Secular Society (LASS)

(LASS can be contacted on Facebook, or at

Nailed it

I’ve mostly avoided getting involved on the Atheism+ debate, despite having strong opinions about it. I really thought it was a flash in the pan vanity project that would soon join its historical brethern the Betamax and the DeLorean in the scrapheap of noble but ultimately bad ideas, so I felt no real need to write about it.

But today I finally came across someone who hits the nail in the head about why I think it’s unnecessary crap. SoggyMog lays out most of my objections beautifully:

…yes it’s a bit grim to unexpectedly see someone masturbating on your walk to work – and of course what the homeless man was doing was illegal.  On the other hand, I couldn’t work out why McCreight seemed to have taken it as such a personal attack on her rights, as in her own words all that had happened was that she’d seen him masturbating while she was “walking by”.

I totally acknowledge that had I been in McCreight’s place there probably WOULD have been a moment of “ew, gross” when I saw this homeless man and registered what he was doing.  I’d also probably have got the hell out of there in a hurry.  But I’d like to think of myself that once the initial shock had subsided I’d have felt at least a “little “concern for this man, for his safety and well-being.  If I witnessed a homeless person shrieking in conversation with himself at the top of his voice, or engaging in self-harm, or doing anything else that most mentally-healthy people do not do in public, I would have felt uncomfortable and probably scared… but I would also have felt compassion. Why does this not apply because the particular eccentric behaviour this man was displaying happened to be sexual in nature?

Then I saw this tweet:

“Heaven forbid I want to walk to work without someone watching me as they masturbate without my consent

…and suddenly I got it. The reason McCreight expressed no sympathy or concern for the homeless man is that, in her world, “everything anyone does within the scope of her perception is about her”.

This has been one of my problems with the entire Elevatorgate/Atheism+ boongogle: it’s so selfish. From the first poor fool who assumed a pretty standard “No Thanks” to his clumsy attempts to mate was an abject rejection of all he was, is, and will be in this universe to the gals complaining that satirical jewelry was “harassment”, this entire boondoggle has been all about the “ME, MYSELF AND I!”

This is the inevitable raction of those suffering from what I like to call “Purple Participation Ribbon Syndrome”. We’ve bred an entire generation (perhaps even a couple of them) of overindulged, spoiled narcissists who think the entire world is only relevant as it pertains to them personally.

These people were raised with the idea that we’re all special; terrific in every way and deserving of credit for and praise for every feat ever attempted. They get good grades simply for trying really hard, toys as rewards for doing chores, trophies for coming to half of scheduled practices. They’ve been showered with accolades for every little thing they’ve ever done and it’s warped their minds so they can only see the world in terms of “What’s in it for me?”

They see every event, statement, idea, or activity through their own personal lens, constantly seeking the answer to the only question that’s relevant: “How does this effect me, and if it doesn’t, how can I make it effect me?” Worse yet, current definitions for words are wholly inadequate to describe their personal wonderfulness, so they make up new words to delineate themselves from the masses, which leads to the seemingly obsessive need to force everyone else to acknowledge their “specialness” by insisting we all refer to them by these new definitions. It’s maddening.

I have no objections to the stated goals if A+, I support all of them. But I do understand why folks find the execution icky, mostly because the attitudes of the organizers are icky. This is just one of my problems with A+, stay tuned for part two.

I only thought my day was bad

So I slogged through another 13 hour day today, feeling half sick, bone tired, and put out by half-wits and cranky babies of all ages. I took my bad mood put on my husband, folks on the internet, and myself. In other words, a typical Tuesday. Then I came across this:

A Young Girl’s Life Almost Stolen: On Malala Yousafzai’s Shooting.

Nuts. Now I gotta label myself a first world problem having, whiney ass numbskull who doesn’t recognize just how good she has it. I hate when that happens.

Arkansas : Why?

Who knew the morality of slavery was still being debated by civilized peoples? Arkansas, despite being one of the prettiest states in the Union, is also unfortunately one of the nuttiest. The Arkansas News brings us tales of just two of these nutballs, John Hubbard and Loy Mauch, both of who currently serve as legislators for the Razorback State. It seems Msrs Hubbard and Mauch share a belief that the morality of slavery is still in question (Shocked? Not me, sadly. Cynicism will destroy my youthful good looks before long, I just know it):

… Hubbard argues that slavery was not such a bad thing: “… the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.”

In a 2003 letter Mauch wrote: “Nowhere in the Holy Bible have I found a word of condemnation for the operation of slavery, Old or New Testament. If slavery was so bad, why didn’t Jesus, Paul or the prophets say something?”

Now, I’m no biblical scholar. As a matter of fact I’ve never gotten much past the “begats” before my eyes glazed over and I put it aside in favor of staring at my fingernails. But I know folks who’ve read it,  some several times, and they tell me that not only does the Bible not condemn slavery, it specifically lays out rules for the ownership and treatment of slaves.

If the book you lean on for your moral framework doesn’t condemn the ownership of human beings by other human beings, your moral code is flawed. Period. Same goes for rape, child abuse, war for profit and fame, child sex (how old was Mary again?) or any of the rest of that hot mess you call a “Bible”.

As for Mr. Hubbard’s claim that slavery was a “blessing in disguise” for those “blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances” and eventually got to become Americans (lucky devils, getting around immigration and customs by disguising themselves as cargo, how clever!), I could point out that several generations of slaves never got that chance because, you know, mortality and stuff.

I could also point out that this theory hasn’t moved Mr. Hubbard to import his own property in the hopes sometime, down the road, if they are hale and hearty enough, they may too get to become an awesome American (yay us!).

Instead I think I’ll just be content in the thought that all those Jews liberated from Nazi death camps were actually quite lucky! Those that survived got an entire country out of it for themselves, not just citizenship in some other country, how fortunate is that? Some might even call it a “blessing”.