Religion on the Ballot

My home state of Florida has earned a very negative reputation, some of it completely warranted, for electoral ineptitude. Most of the country is only aware of the issues in presidential elections, but there's a more serious problem with the general electorate and the amendments to the state constitution we vote on as ballot initiatives. Florida has passed the highest percentage of ballot initiatives of any state in the union. It seems the residents of the state are even less skeptical than even the average American and will approve almost any measure that doesn't immediately appear like a bad idea. The majority of initiatives concern taxation issues because the state legislature doesn't want to risk passing an unpopular measure which will hurt their constituents' wallets, and they have learned that Floridians foolishly tend to vote yes by default when they don't understand a proposal rather than demanding a clear explanation before they change the state's supreme law. The problem has become so bad that in 2006 we passed an amendment that requires a sixty-percent majority for all future amendments, ironically with only a 57.8% majority. I'm afraid that even this new threshold won't prevent two very destructive amendments on this year's ballot from passing.

Amendment 2 would explicitly ban same-sex marriage and civil unions:

Inasmuch as a marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.
Florida already has a statute against same-sex marriage, but proponents apparently want to make it even more difficult for homosexuals to be granted equal rights. Although there are indeed secular arguments against same-sex marriage, this is undoubtedly a religious issue. The secular arguments hold almost no sway among the nonreligious, primarily only among those who want rationalize their opposition based on either faith or simple bigotry. Every poll I've seen shows that the nonreligious support same-sex marriage by overwhelming margins.

Amendment 7 would repeal the constitutional prohibition on granting money to religious institutions:
An individual or entity may not be barred from participating in any public program because of religion and to delete the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.
I don't really know what the first clause entails, but it must sound good to most voters, so it may only be there to distract them from the main issue: school vouchers. This amendment was created after an earlier voucher program was thwarted in state court precisely on account of this law. Perhaps proponents even have in mind a state “faith-based initiative” program like the federal program. Whatever the case, it's very clear this is a step in the wrong direction.

With taxation amendments, the problem is that voters don't understand the meaning of the text and vote for them anyway. With these two amendments, citizens will have little difficulty understanding. It's their failure to appreciate the importance of church-state separation that will be the problem. I predict that both will pass in November, but I hope I'm proven wrong. Wherever you live, take the time to vote and make your voice heard!



Atheism and the Internet

For those of us who became adults after the advent of the internet, it's sometimes difficult to imagine how anyone found any information without this very powerful tool. Almost every day I look up something online that I would have been unable to find otherwise and it makes finding everything else much faster and easier. This is especially true with respect to atheism. Indeed, the internet makes it easier to become and to live as an atheist.

When I began investigating my doubts four years, I bought a few books critical of religion, but most of skeptical materials that I read were only available on the internet. Since my deconversion, the internet has facilitated almost all of my interaction with other atheists. The vast majority has happened directly online through forums and blogs. All the groups that I've met or visited in person I first learned about online. I listen to atheist podcasts online. I find most of my atheist books online. Other atheist products I can find only online. If it weren't for the internet, I would be almost totally isolated from other atheists and would feel very alone. I sympathize with all the millions of atheists throughout history who had to struggle without any help whatsoever from fellow nonbelievers simply because they didn't know any and didn't know how to find them. It's still not easy to be an atheist in religious society, but the internet has certainly helped.