David Silverman, President of American Atheists, says the group will soon premiere an "all atheists" channel, which should be available via Roku, the streaming player, fairly soon. Mr. Silverman says the group will obtain content from various sources, including AA (that's American Atheists, not Alcoholics Anonymous) conventions, and third parties. He says the channel will be called (no surprise) Atheist TV. Well, it should be listed first, or at least right up there, on the list of options on the channel finder. More about Roku here. I have one, and like it a lot, except for the remote, which is tiny, and easy to misplace. And my cat tends to lie on top of it at inopportune moments, or maybe he thinks I watch too many 60s sitcoms. "Stop staring at the stoopid box! My toona! Get my toona nooow!!!!".
Now, I've often played with the idea of creating hypos for a question on one of my exams that would include a channel like Atheist TV, and then letting fly with all sorts of fact patterns and issues. I didn't think it would happen (like magic) in real life. As Mark Twain famously said about the weather (in New England) in another context (completely), "Just wait a minute."
Catherine and Herbert Schaible, who are members of Philadelphia's First Century Gospel Church, are facing third-degree murder charges in the death of their young son Brandon. Seven-month-old Brandon died in April of bacterial pneumonia because his parents practice faith healing, and refused a judge's order to seek traditional medical treatment for their son. The prosecutor is also charging the parents with involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy. In 2009, another of their children also died. The Schaibles were convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The jury sentenced them to probation. They are still serving that sentence.
The Oklahoma atheist who politely informed CNN's Wolf Blitzer that she didn't thank the Lord for that split second decision to seek shelter with her young son as the tornado bore down on her family has gotten a lot of moral and financial support from other secularists as a result of her straight talk on national TV. A good many "nones" have come out to show that they appreciate Rebecca Vitsmun's honesty, and probably her good humor and courtesy as well. Given the dislike that some Americans continue to show for nonbelievers, Ms. Vitsmun showed a lot of courage in declaring her beliefs on camera.
The web campaign Atheists Unite has raised more than $101,000 of its $55,000 goal. I'm not awfully good at math, but I think that's twice as much as the amount organizer Doug Stanhope aimed at originally to help out the family.
I know intellectually that the Internet is tubes. But emotionally, I think it's magic.
The Fifth Circuit has dismissed an inmate's appeal against a district court's ruling that his complaint against the warden, Dawn Grounds, and others in charge of the prison in which he is incarcerated is without merit. Apparently Courtney Royal, self-described "Vampsh Black Sheep League of Doom Gardamun Family Circle Master Vampire High Priest," believes that he cannot practice his religious (vampire) rituals in jail as constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. At least, that's what I, and Robyn Kagan of Findlaw, get out of his filing.
Says the court, in part:
Royal asserts, without further explanation, that he intends to raise on appeal issues involving summary judgment; religious items, food diets, and service; spirit advisor; black Bible; and "rugs, rode, [and] beads." He does not address the district court's certification that his appeal was not taken in good faith, nor does he address any of the district court's reasons for its certification decision. ... Accordingly, his challenge to the district court's certification decision is deemed abandoned.
The court furthers warns Mr. Royal that three attempts to file this kind of action constitutes a waste of a court's time. "Royal is cautioned that if he accumulates three strikes under [Sec]1915(g) he will not be able to proceed IFP in any civil action or appeal filed while he is incarcerated or detained in any facility unless he is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." The case is Royal v. Grounds et al., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 11478.
So, no Grounds for appeal. (One of the other named defendants goes by the name of Pierce, but I'll skip the obvious pun that comes to mind). Does all this mean Mr. Royal failed to stake a claim?
Rose Marks and several other members of her family say that they have real psychic powers, which allow them to help persons in distress and put them in touch with deceased loved ones. Federal prosecutors say Ms. Marks and her family are nothing more than scam artists who take victims' money, in some cases thousands of dollars. One person who says she lost money to Rose Marks, almost a million dollars, is the novelist Jude Deveraux. Ms. Deveraux says Ms. Marks, using the name Joyce Michael, became "the source of pain, deception and fraud while trapping Deveraux with threats and the promise of hope."
The defense attorneys in the case are raising a First Amendment free exercise argument, saying that their clients' beliefs in psychic powers and their other practices are part of a sincerely held religious belief. Federal judges in other circuits have held that states cannot prohibit individuals from telling fortunes for pay, for example. The First Amendment exists to protect speech that allows people to engage in discussion on important issues, or issues that they think are worthwhile. Because the First Amendment, one of our fundamental rights is implicated, a court applied the "strict scrutiny" standard, which requires that the government demonstrate that it has a compelling interest (an interest of the highest order) to suppress or limit the speech, and that it is doing so in the most limited way with the narrowest means available. The cases in which federal judges have upheld the rights of fortune tellers, astrologers, clairvoyants and other "crafty science" practitioners to "speak" under the First Amendment include Argello v. City of Lincoln (143 F.3d 1152 (8th Cir. 1998)),(upholding the right of the plaintiff to tell fortunes for pay). See also a prior Law and Magic post here.
However, while the First Amendment is liberal in its protection of speech and belief, it does not protect criminal conduct. What is at issue here may be instead a law of general applicability, a law that is neutral in terms of its application to everyone. If so, if it applies to everyone regarding of his or her beliefs or speech, then the defendants here have a much less convincing argument that they are being targeting for their religious beliefs. The judge in Trimble v. City of New Iberia makes just this point.
For purposes of plaintiffs' motion, the Court will accept the City's position and assume that consumer protection is a compelling state interest. Therefore, the validity of the Ordinance depends on whether it is reasonably necessary to achieve the City's compelling interest. Plaintiffs argue that consumer protection against fraud and unfair trade practices is already provided under state law in the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act, La. R.S. 51:1401 et. seq. Plaintiffs assert that to the extent fortunetelling and the like may be unfair or deceptive, they are already prohibited by state law. The Supreme Court has pointed out that the "existence of adequate content-neutral alternatives undercuts significantly" the government's position that its challenged legislation is reasonably necessary to achieve its interests. R. A. V., 505 U.S. at 395. If the City were concerned about protecting consumers who solicit the services of the plaintiffs, the City could have enacted legislation similar to the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Trimble v. City of New Iberia, 73 F. Supp. 2d 659 (U.S.D.C., W.D. La., Lafayette-Opelousas Div., 1999)(boldface added by editor).
Incidentally, the First Amendment also does not necessarily protect speech "when it is the very vehicle of the crime itself." See Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, 128 F.3d 233 (4th Circ., 1997) at 244.
The case may depend on the language of the statute under which the defendants were charged as well as what the prosecutors can prove the defendants actually did.