This episode, Justin had a conversation with his friend Adriane about abuse, neglect, and harm done in the name of religion. They discussed her upbringing and eventual path to atheism, how religious exemption laws harm public health and children’s rights, the current political climate, and the value of citizenship.
This week, Justin talks with friend and historian Kelsey Gordon. They talk about her questioning of faith, her research on mid-century American popular culture, and the current state of American politics.
In this special episode, Justin shares his thoughts on the current state of politics and the emerging “New Center.”
Heinrich “Henry” Becker arrived in the United States in 1849, stepping off the passenger ship Hermann and claiming a new life for himself in Baltimore, Maryland. His family had lived in Prussia all their lives, but they embarked on a new path for themselves in America. His father, Friedrich Becker, brought his wife, Elizabeth, and their five children (including Heinrich) to United States. He worked as a tailor most of his life in Baltimore but frequently made trips back to Germany. Heinrich, by contrast, likely had odd jobs before settling in Ohio as an employee of an oil mill. He became a naturalized citizen in 1854 and lived the next six decades in Dayton, Ohio. He died in 1912.
His daughter, Catharine Baker, was born in 1864. She married Harvey Geyer in 1891 and lived in Dayton until around 1899, where she and her family moved to Peru, Indiana. It was here that Paul Richard Geyer was born. He later married Nira Amos and fathered approximately 4 children, of which my Grandfather, Henry William “Butch” Guyer, was born in 1938. Heinrich Baker, the Prussian immigrant and oil mill worker, is my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. His father, Friedrich, is my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather. I’m a proud descendent of German immigrants.
This is something I’ve reflected on a lot over the last few days. This week saw one of the most egregious decisions ever made by an American president: the rescinding of DACA, or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” This policy, started in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama, ensured that children of undocumented immigrants could stay in the country under a temporary permit. If they came to the US before they were 16, were in high school or completed high school, and had no criminal record, they could stay here under the DACA program. Over 800,000 people utilized DACA to stay in the US. The policy loosely came from a Congressional proposal called the DREAM Act, which would have been a permanent version of DACA that couldn’t be manipulated by executive overreach. Despite broad public support (69% in the latest PRRI poll), the program’s rescindment under the Trump Administration throws everything into uncertainty.
The Obama administration created DACA as a stop-gap measure, after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010. Some on the right, including the official line from the White House and the Justice Department, argued that DACA couldn’t withstand constitutional scrutiny. This is not as easy as they make it. The Supreme Court recently issued a split ruling (before Scalia’s replacement) on a similar program, but their differences were mostly based on procedural matters. As Drexel University law professor Anil Kalhan noted in an interview with Quartz, “The issue of constitutionality has never been resolved.” The article further debunks much of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments on rescinding DACA, specifically who qualifies and how the program actually works.
Now, we can set aside the legal issues here, which are complicated and unsettled, but we certainly need to discuss the moral nature of the Trump administration’s decision. This leaves the lives of 800,000 people in an worsened state of limbo than they were already in, causing unnecessary uncertainty to employment, schooling, and eventual paths to citizenship. These young people, who came here as children and know no other home, could be deported to a land they have a tangential connection to. It could split up families, dissolve communities, and hurt our economy. As former Microsoft head and philanthropist Bill Gates wrote on Facebook:
DREAMers represent the best instincts of this country and the tradition that the great experiment of the United States is made better by people from other places coming here to dedicate their talents and commitment to continuing to move our country forward.
Corporate leaders, especially from silicon valley, strongly criticized the president’s decision this week. In fact, CEOs from across the corporate spectrum sent a letter to President Trump and Congressional leaders urging the passage of the DREAM Act and the continuation of DACA.
The strongest criticism of Trump’s actions came from his predecessor, Barack Obama. On Tuesday, the former President published an essay on his Facebook that unpacked the real reason for this decision:
Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.
He’s right. President Trump made this decision to appeal to the xenophobic, and frankly anti-immigrant, wing of his dwindling political base. This was never about the DREAMers; it was about reversing a policy that made our country more diverse simply to placate a minority of extreme conservatives whose views clashed with the majority of Americans.
As a counter to this horrendous view of America, Obama outlined a better path in the closing of his remarks:
What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.
With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your Senators and Congresspeople. Tell them to pass the DREAM Act once and for all, so that these people can stay here, work hard, get ahead, and become the Americans they deserve to be. I’ll even give you an easy way to do it. Text “RESIST” to 50409. Give them your name, zip code, and a short message letting them know you support DACA and the DREAMers.
Finally, I’ll leave you with a story. Last year, my former home town of Kokomo, Indiana was hit by a tornado. It touched down near a local Starbucks, leveling it to the ground. Fortunately for everyone, no one was hurt, and that was in no small measure to the manager on duty, Angel Ramos. He rushed everyone to the bathroom and saved them from the building’s collapse. His valiant efforts made him a local hero; they call him the “Starbucks Angel.” He was even commended for his actions by Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz. He’s recently married and has a new job in construction, “helping rebuild Kokomo.”
Angel is also a DREAMer. He came here from Mexico with his family when he was nine years old. He became a DACA recipient four years ago, and in that time, he has been able to build a great life for himself here in the US. However, with the rescinding of DACA, he faces uncertainty again. This is something I’m not sure the Trump administration understands. Every time they make a policy move like this, they seem to disregard the very human toll it has. And all of it comes from playing petty partisan politics with people who can’t easily fight back.
It’s characteristic of a bully, someone who thinks they’re strong when they’re actually backed in a corner. In a presidency mired in scandal, comfort with white supremacy, and organizational disarray, this “policy move” is another distraction from the very problems this President has. His lashing out turns into real a hardship for people like Angel, his younger sister, and the 800,000 people helped by the DACA program. As Ramos said in a recent interview, “We’re just trying to come here for a better life. So it’s frustrating… just to see everything kind of start going backwards in a very intolerant and prejudice[d] way.”
He’s right. This isn’t good policy or good politics; it’s just prejudice. The hope is that the DREAM Act will get passed and DACA will be extended, but for now, it’s up to all of us to defend the DREAMers. People come to America for opportunity, freedom, and the chance to build a better life. It’s what brought Angel and his family here and what brought my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Heinrich and his family here. Citizenship is not based simply on where you’re from; it’s about who you are and what you do when you’re here. We’re all Americans united under the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Extending the blessings of liberty to all people strengthens our country, not weakens it. To ensure the promise of our nation, we must stand by the DREAMers and their pursuit of their dream.
This week, Justin sits down with journalist, historian, and activist Luciano Gonzalez. They have a wide-ranging discussion about his path out of religion, what it’s like to be an atheist in the latinx community, the growing threat of white supremacy and violent extremism, and the value of history to democracy.
This week, Justin talks about the DCCC’s potential support of pro-life candidates, homeopathy, bible studies in the White House, and ending the federal prohibition of marijuana.
In 1936, a church-funded film called Tell Your Children was released in theaters. Originally produced by George Hirliman as a propaganda film, Tell Your Children displayed youths gone wild under the influence of marijuana. However, it is best known to the world under its later title, Reefer Madness. A more salacious version, released just years later, cemented its place as one of most ill-conceived, yet undeniably fascinating pieces of film. In both versions, young people have their lives ruined by the “dangerous” effects of marijuana, with violence, promiscuity, and death as a result of their inhalations. This type of presentation is known as “voodoo pharmacology,” the idea that any drug, no matter how benign, could cause “uncontrollable urge[s] of craving and compulsion.”
Popular culture has maintained this illogical and misguided view of marijuana use, so much so that public leaders continue to rail against it. Our current Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has attempted to undo much of the Obama-era drug reforms as soon as he came into office. In May of 2017, he sent a letter to congressional leadership urging them not to impede Justice Department prosecutions of marijuana offenses, even in states where medicinal or recreational marijuana is currently legal. In it, Sessions asserted that marijuana is “linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders such as psychosis,” which the Guardian’s Jamie Peck noted as “sound[ing] a lot like “reefer madness” to me.” I agree. While the research on medicinal marijuana is still not fully conclusive, most research suggests that it isn’t any worse for a person than tobacco and certainly alcohol.
With that in mind, why have we continued a national policy of marijuana prohibition that lead to 8.2 million arrests between 2001 and 2010, with African-Americans 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested? As the ACLU noted, marijuana accounted for 52% of all drug-related arrests during this period, and 88% of them were for mere possession. These aren’t the Pablo Escobar-style drug lords we’re talking about; these are millions of people who were arrested for simply possessing a little pot. Furthermore, the racial bias is ridiculous. During the same decade, African-Americans aged 18-25 used marijuana less than whites but still faced disproportionately higher arrest rates. This is on top of a historically racist and inhumane drug war that has destroyed millions of lives and countless communities.
As with many things, you can tie this nonsense back to Richard Nixon. In 1970, Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act into law, reclassifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. To give you a sense of how fucked up that is, Schedule 1 puts marijuana on par with heroin — a drug that caused nearly 13,000 overdose deaths in 2015. It also classifies marijuana with having “no currently accepted medical uses” and a “lack of accepted safety for medical use.” This is definitely not the case. According to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, an analysis of 10,000 studies concluded that marijuana strongly “helps chronic pain in adults,” “lessens chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting,” and “relieves some symptoms of multiple sclerosis.” It also moderately helps with “sleep problems caused by obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis” and “doesn’t increase risk of cancers.” Now, I’m not claiming it’s a wonder-drug like many cannabis supporters do, but I am following the best credible evidence we have. Based on this alone, marijuana shouldn’t be classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
This is only the science and the law. Let’s talk about the politics of all this. As with marriage equality, the public has rapidly changed its view of marijuana legalization over the decades. In 1979, only 27% of Americans supported legalization. Today, that number is 61%, according to a recent CBS News poll. As for its supposed relationship to crime, only 23% of Americans think it’s related to violent crime. As for its supposed danger to consumers, 53% of Americans think that alcohol is worse than marijuana, with only 7% believing the inverse. What do these statistics say about the changing culture of pot? For starters, many more Americans have tried marijuana than in previous generations. According to this same poll, 50% of Americans have tried marijuana, as opposed to only 34% in 1997. The country is just getting more and more comfortable with pot; they’re learning that it isn’t the boogeyman drug that politicians like Jeff Sessions paint it as.
States are also getting wise to this conclusion. Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 30 permit medicinal uses. However, Sessions’ Justice Department isn’t dedicated to federalism on this matter. Despite these legalized means, the DEA will continue to prosecute people under the federal Controlled Substances Act. So much for limited government. Until Sessions resigns, or a new administration is elected, it appears that marijuana policy at the Justice Department will not follow the science or public opinion.
That doesn’t mean that Congress should sit on its hands. On August 1, 2017, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill that “would amend the Controlled Substance Act to eliminate marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 drug — a move that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.” Booker’s bill also “incentivize[s] states to legalize marijuana if their current laws have a ‘disproportionate arrest rate’ on minority or low-income individuals.” Building on President Obama’s previous reforms, the Marijuana Justice Act would retroactively apply to individuals charged for marijuana-related offenses, allowing for the commutation of sentences and expunging the records for those already released. Booker spoke of his bill in a public statement:
Descheduling marijuana and applying that change retroactively to people currently serving time for marijuana offenses is a necessary step in correcting this unjust system. States have so far led the way in reforming our criminal justice system and it’s about time the federal government catches up and begins to assert leadership.
Booker’s bill is definitely a step in the right direction, but he needs cosponsors as well as broad, bipartisan support. Despite our era of political gridlock and intense partisanship, this is an issue that Democrats and Republicans can get behind. Democrats like it because it will help those disproportionately harmed by terrible drug policy, particularly the poor and people of color. Republicans, especially libertarian-style ones, can get behind expanding personal freedom and cutting wasteful government spending on enforcement. As the recent CBS News poll indicates, “majorities of Republicans (63 percent), Democrats (76 percent), and independents (72 percent) oppose the federal government trying to stop marijuana use in these states.” This would be a prime piece of legislation for bipartisan cooperation as well as reasonable public policy.
Besides the political, legal, and scientific reasons for decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, there’s also the moral component. I strongly believe in the philosophy of “self-proprietorship,” the Enlightenment principle that you own your life and your body. Jacob Sullum, writer for Reason magazine, brilliantly elucidated this concept and its relation to drugs:
People have a right to control their bodies, to control what goes into their bodies, to control their minds, ultimately, because that’s what you’re talking about. If you’re talking about psychoactive drugs, you’re talking about controlling the contents of your mind, what goes on inside your brain. That’s a pretty basic right, you would think.
Your life should belong to you and you should be able to do as you wish, so long as you’re not violating the rights of others. If we’re a country that prizes liberty above all else, this should be a foundation component of that liberty. Alas, pious politicians, overzealous cops, and moralizing nanny-staters have marched, en masse, to stop people from living their lives as they see fit. Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana on the federal level would do a great deal to stop them in their tracks, while increasing the liberty, safety, and happiness of our citizens and their communities. Contact your Senators and Representatives and tell them you want a bipartisan push for decriminalization, if not outright legalization, of marijuana at the federal level. Prohibition taught us that when you unrightly criminalize something, you nevertheless make real criminals. Let’s not go down that road again. Let’s end the war on pot.
This week, Justin covers Scientology’s big money donors and their connections to “Big Pharma,” Pakistani atheists facing death for their apostasy, and what we lose, and gain, when we lose our religion.
This week, Justin talks about Robert P. Jones’ research on the “Decline of White Christian America,” Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green’s looted relics for his Bible museum in Washington, D.C., and why Chiropractic medicine Is nonsense. Also, Cardinal George Pell’s alleged sexual abuse, the link of Saudi Arabia to Islamism, and Kentucky’s public school class on the Bible.
Justin sits down for the first interview on Reason Revolution with Eastern Iowa Atheists director Justin Scott. In the second part of their four-hour conversation, they continue discussing about the 2016 election, how atheists can reach out to liberals and conservatives, how to effectively communicate about the threat of Islamism, and how people can be activists in their own neck of the woods.