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Updated: 15 hours 16 min ago

Survey Says: Majority Of Americans Believe Employee Health Insurance Plans Should Cover Birth Control

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:50

Liz Hayes

Wall of Separation

The vast majority of voters – 82 percent – think birth control should be covered in health insurance plans, even if employers are morally opposed to it.

birth control, affordable care act, Donald Trump, Department of Health and Humans Services, national women’s law center, Shiraef v. Hargan, Protect Thy Neighbor

Acupuncture in cancer study reignites debate about controversial technique

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:21

By Jo Marchant

One of the largest-ever clinical trials into whether acupuncture can relieve pain in cancer patients has reignited a debate over the role of this contested technique in cancer care.

Oncologists who conducted a trial of real and sham acupuncture in 226 women at 11 different cancer centres across the United States say their results — presented on 7 December at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas — conclude that the treatment significantly reduces pain in women receiving hormone therapy for breast cancer. They suggest it could help patients stick to life-saving cancer treatments, potentially improving survival rates. But sceptics say it is almost impossible to conduct completely rigorous double-blinded trials of acupuncture.

Interest in acupuncture has grown because of concerns over the use of opioid-based pain-relief drugs, which can have nasty side effects and are extremely addictive. Many cancer centres in the United States therefore offer complementary therapies for pain relief. Almost 90% of US National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centres suggest that patients try acupuncture, and just over 70% offer it as a treatment for side effects1. That horrifies sceptics such as Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale University School of Medicine and founder of the blog Science-Based Medicine. Acupuncture has no scientific basis, he says; recommending it is “telling patients that magic works”. 

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Freedom From Religion group calls for IRS investigation over church’s pro-Roy Moore sign

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:16

By Leada Gore

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is requesting an IRS investigation into an Alabama church that promoted Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore on its marquee.

Living Way Ministries in Opelika drew national attention for its sign that said “They falsely accused Jesus! Vote Roy Moore.” Church officials said the message was posted by a church member and the pastor later requested it be removed.

Moore faces Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 election. The former Alabama Chief Justice has been accused of having improper sexual contact with teenage girls in the 1970s. He denies the charges.

FFRF said the sign is a violation of the Johnson Amendment that prohibits non-profit organizations, including churches and other religious groups, from participating in political campaigns on behalf of a particular candidate.

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Oldest Supermassive Black Hole Found from Universe’s Infancy

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:11

By Charles Q. Choi

Astronomers have discovered the oldest supermassive black hole ever found—a behemoth that grew to 800 million times the mass of the sun when the universe was just 5 percent of its current age, a new study finds.

This newfound giant black hole, which formed just 690 million years after the Big Bang, could one day help shed light on a number of cosmic mysteries, such as how black holes could have reached gargantuan sizes quickly after the Big Bang and how the universe got cleared of the murky fog that once filled the entire cosmos, the researchers said in the new study.

Supermassive black holes with masses millions to billions of times that of the sun are thought to lurk at the hearts of most, if not all, galaxies. Previous research suggested these giants release extraordinarily large amounts of light when they rip apart stars and devour matter, and likely are the driving force behind quasars, which are among the brightest objects in the universe. 

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How Religious Fear is Shaping the Culture War

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:08

By Brandon Withrow

On Monday, the Supreme Court allowed President Trump’s travel ban to take effect. That he doesn’t hide his anti-Muslim sentiments well is not a secret—a firestorm erupted over his unapologetic sharing of anti-Muslim videos from Britain First in November, and six of the eight countries in the newly approved ban are still predominantly Muslim.

The president’s use of a culture war exploits far right religious motives and fears. But there are good reasons to believe that this strategy, while effective for an election last year, is ultimately short-sighted.

First, why did his culture war strategy work?

recent Penn State study led by Michael H. Pasek and Jonathan E. Cook may have that answer. Looking at religious threats in the United States, their research shows that feelings of religious threats can have spiraling impacts and consequences (full study). Threats, according to the study are psychological responses “experienced by individuals who feel stereotyped, discriminated against, or devalued because of a social group membership.” Individuals who “feel targeted because of their religious identity” also may “experience that as a psychological threat.” This becomes a vicious cycle, according to the researchers. Those who feel threatened frequently feel isolated, tend to hide their religious identities, and in turn increase their own prejudice against others.

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Roy Moore Turns To Religious Right Radio To Shield Him From Accusations Of Racism

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:21

By Jared Holt

Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore told Religious Right radio host Sandy Rios this morning that it is “completely ridiculous” that people have called him racist.

Moore appeared on American Family Radio’s “Sandy Rios in the Morning” today in advance of tomorrow’s special election in Alabama. During the interview, Rios asked Moore to respond to comments made by former NBA star Charles Barkley in which he told reporters that “Roy Moore is running with Steve Bannon as his right-hand man, who is a white separatist.” Barkley was referring to Bannon’s past support for the racist alt-right movement and his reputation among white supremacists.

“A white nationalist is campaigning for me? I don’t know any white nationalists campaigning for me,” Moore said, going on to suggest that Barkley’s criticism should be ignored because Barkley has criticized him for years.

Moore denied that he is racist, despite being revealed to have said that the last time the United States was great was before the Civil War and that the 14th Amendment is too restrictive. As we have noted as well, much of Moore’s political career has been funded by a man associated with the pro-secessionist group League of the …read more

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Court Upholds FEMA Policy Barring Grants to Houses of Worship

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:21

By Don Byrd

Written by Don Byrd

A federal judge in Texas has denied a motion filed by plaintiff churches seeking an injunction against the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) policy prohibiting disaster aid grants to facilities established primarily for religious use. The churches are seeking funding to repair facilities damaged by Hurricane Harvey earlier this year, and claim the policy excluding them is an unconstitutional discrimination against religion. FEMA, for its part, is not defending the current policy, and is reviewing it for possible changes. Several organizations, however, including the BJC, filed a brief with the court arguing that the policy is a proper means of enforcing the separation of church and state. In denying the injunction request, the judge agreed that the policy is likely to withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Specifically, he rejected arguments made by the plaintiffs that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church earlier this year bars the exclusion of churches from FEMA’s grant policy. Here is an excerpt from the opinion:

Plaintiffs argue that FEMA’s policy has the same effect as Missouri’s policy in Trinity Lutheran. They argue that FEMA denies the churches an otherwise available public benefit on account of their religious status. However, Trinity …read more

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Breitbart Takes Its Smear Campaign Against Roy Moore Accusers To Infowars

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:21

By Jared Holt

Breitbart editor Aaron Klein teamed up with Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist supplement salesman who heads Infowars, to further the site’s larger campaign to discredit and smear the women who have claimed that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Klein appeared on Infowars today to defend Moore against claims that he sexually assaulted teenage girls by claiming that the women who have come forward have credibility issues and that one was deemed “psychiatrically unstable.” Klein said the mainstream media committed “journalistic malpractice” by not reporting on what he believed to be “bombshells” that question the credibility of the women making the accusations.

Klein repeated to Jones many of the same claims he made last week on a special edition of “Breitbart News Tonight” with Steve Bannon. Klein claimed that the “D.A.” initials following a yearbook signature put forward as evidence for one accusation against Moore indicates that the note may be a forgery and that the woman’s ex-boyfriend “says she’s a liar” and her son “says she’s a liar.” The woman, Beverly Young Nelson, has since said that she added the “D.A.” as an annotation …read more

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Jeff Sessions’ Security Clearance Story Gets Even Muddier, Thanks To A New Document From The FBI

Mon, 2017-12-11 07:21

By Miranda Blue

Right Wing Watch has obtained a document from the FBI that calls into question Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claims about why he failed to tell the FBI and the Senate Judiciary Committee about meetings with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 election.

After our organization, People For the American Way, successfully sued for the release of records involving the FBI’s instructions to Sessions as he was filling out his SF-86 security clearance form, the Justice Department sent the records to CNN. CNN reported that the released document, a single internal email from the FBI, “bolsters” Session’s account. But if you look at the email itself and at the timeline behind the events, it’s clear that there’s more to the story.

Sessions completed his SF-86 security clearance form on November 3, before the presidential election. In May, after it was reported that that he had omitted meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak from that form—meetings that he had also neglected to mention to the Senate Judiciary Committee—a Justice Department spokesman said that “In filling out the SF-86 form, the Attorney General’s staff consulted with those …read more

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Religious Right Activist E.W. Jackson Is Running For The U.S. Senate

Mon, 2017-12-11 06:21

By Kyle Mantyla

One month after declaring that anyone who voted for a Democrat in Virginia’s recent elections would have to answer to God for doing so, Religious Right activist E.W. Jackson appeared on “The John Fredericks Show” today to announce his own candidacy for the U.S. Senate, hoping to win the Virginia Republican primary and challenge Sen. Tim Kaine in 2018.

In honor of Jackson’s official announcement, we are reposting the list of some of the outrageous and bigoted things that he has said during his career as a right-wing activist and radio host, which we put together earlier this year when Jackson first began hinting about making another run for office.

Jackson has:

PAC Run By Top Moore Ally Warns Doug Jones Wants ‘To Start A Race War’

Mon, 2017-12-11 03:21

By Miranda Blue

Politico, reporting on the final days of campaigning in the special Senate election in Alabama, takes note of a radio ad being run by the pro-Roy Moore group Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC, which accuses Moore’s Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, of using ads on black radio stations to try and “start a race war”:

Some pro-Moore groups are taking an even more pointed approach to energize conservatives. One Moore-aligned group, Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC, is airing commercials on nearly 60 stations around the state accusing Jones of “trying to steal the election with vile, racist ads on black radio.”

“Desperate to steal this Senate race, Jones and his race-hustling allies are trying to start a race war and it’s only going to get worse in the final weekend, with millions of dollars in street money to turn out the vote,” it adds.

Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC is run and partly funded by Steven Hotze, a Texas activist known for his over-the-top anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Hotze has been a loyal backer of Moore’s campaign. Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC, according to its spending report on the weekend’s radio ads, has spent $91,000 to date supporting Moore and opposing …read more

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Plan to publicly fund damaged cathedral meets opposition

Mon, 2017-12-11 02:22

By Barry Duke

Almost seven years ago ‘acts of God’ in the form of earthquakes damaged buildings – including a deconsecrated Anglican cathedral – in Christchurch, New Zealand.

But a plan to use get residents to contribute cash rebuild the cathedral has not gone down well with many local residents, according to this report.

In September, the Anglican Synod voted to rebuild the ChristChurch Cathedral, which had been damaged on no fewer than six occasions by earthquakes between 1881 (coincidentally when the Freethinker was first published) and 2011. The plan came with various funding pledges, including a $10-million (£5.7-m) grant from the Christchurch City Council.

But after public consultation, the council found the majority of residents did not believe ratepayers should foot part of the bill. A total of 1,063 people lodged objections to the grant.

Spreydon resident, Janet Begg, was among them, and she said the Christchurch City Council should not waste a cent of ratepayers’ money on it.

It’s not one of the core functions of the Christchurch City Council … we have far more important things to be doing. We are supposed to be a secular country and our rates should not be used to prop up the Anglicans.

The campaign to …read more

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SXSW Wellness Expo and Goop: Accepting HIV/AIDS denialism and antivaccine pseudoscience by embracing Dr. Kelly Brogan

Sun, 2017-12-10 20:21

By David Gorski Dr. Kelly Brogan is doing well these days. Invited to be a headliner at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Summit and to be on the advisory board of the 2018 SXSW Wellness Expo, she’s riding high. Unfortunately Goop and SXSW appear not to care about her being an HIV/AIDS denialist, antivaxer, and all around quack. …read more

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Charles’s accession could prompt Church disestablishment, says new report

Sun, 2017-12-10 18:21

Prince Charles’s accession to the throne will offer a “particularly opportune moment” to press the benefits of disestablishing the Church of England, according to a new report published today.

…read more

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Killjoy preacher tells kids Santa is fantasy, but Jesus is for real

Sun, 2017-12-10 07:21

By Barry Duke

There is more historic evidence for the existence of Santa Claus (aka St Nicholas) than there is for Jesus Christ, but pastor David Grisham, above, doesn’t want children to know that – and he’s more than happy to wreck Christmas family days out by bellowing at youngsters that Santa is ‘make-believe’.

His latest attack on Santa has earned him very few fans and a whole bunch of new enemies. According to this report, Grisham, the former leader of the Repent Amarillo outfit in Texas, went to the Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska, to repeat a stunt he pulled last Christmas at the Westgate Mall in Amarillo.

Grisham, who is now headquartered in Anchorage where he is running Repent Alaska and Last Frontier Evangelism, angered many parents when he recently walked up to the line of children and parents waiting to see Santa, and with his phone camera in hand, proclaimed:

I wanted to tell you kids today that Santa Claus does not exist. Santa Claus is not real. The man you’re going to meet today is a man wearing a suit like a costume and it’s make-believe.

For good measure, he added:

There are no reindeer, flying reindeer.

He then posted the …read more

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Call to protect universal human rights as the UK leaves the EU

Sun, 2017-12-10 04:21

By Richy Thompson

To mark Human Rights Day, Humanists UK along with 144 charities and campaigning organisations has signed a joint letter to Prime Minister Theresa May calling on the Government to protect universal human rights standards. Humanists UK is firmly committed to the promotion of human rights and equality, and opposes any dilution of protections which might occur during or after the Brexit process.

The joint letter, coordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), demands that the same legal protections for human rights remain in place after the UK leaves the European Union (EU). It raises concerns that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, won’t transpose the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law, and that the Government will return to plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. These plans are currently on hold during the process of leaving the EU.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Our fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom to hold or not hold religious beliefs, were written down after the Second World War in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but only realised for UK citizens through the Human Rights Act and …read more

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Street preacher and gun nut beats hate speech conviction

Sat, 2017-12-09 22:21

By Barry Duke

Daniel Courney, 33, a deranged evangelist who was convicted earlier this year of using “threatening and discriminatory language” during an anti-Islamic rant in Lincoln, had his conviction overturned this week.

Courney, an American missionary who served in the US military and has been a missionary in Nepal and India for eight years, advocates for arming civilians as passionately as he does for Christianity. The picture above on his Facebook page has this caption:

Hooah. I shot expert (38 of 40) and was able to disassemble and reassemble my M16 A2 in a little over a minute when I was in the service. (If civilians didn’t have firearms, the US wouldn’t be free from tyranny today – for all the nay-sayers out there.)

Courney’s conviction in September this year followed a complaint from a Muslim woman and her family who heard him preaching on the street. She claimed the nutter singled them out, called them “ISIS” and told them to “go back to your country”. As a result, Courney was arrested. He denied the charge but was booked under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for using:

Threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of …read more

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Archbishop’s ‘shameful’ attack on non-religious schools

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:21

By Barry Duke

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been strongly rebuked by Humanists UK for saying that, in ‘schools that are not of a religious character, confidence in any personal sense of ultimate values has diminished.’

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on education this week, Welby said:

[The Church has made] a clear move towards schools that not only deliver academic excellence, but which have the boldness and vision to do so outside the boundaries of a selective system. The Church of England’s educational offer to our nation is church schools that, in its own words, are deeply Christian, nurturing the whole child spiritually, emotionally, mentally, as well as academically, yet welcoming the whole community.

A major obstacle to our education system is a lack of clear internal and commonly held values. We live in a country where an overarching story which is the framework for explaining life has more or less disappeared.

We have a world of unguided an competing narratives where the only common factor is the inviolability of personal choice. Which means that for schools that are not of a religious character, confidence in any personal sense of ultimate values has diminished. Utilitarianism rules. And skills move from …read more

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Flu Season Is Already Off to a Bad Start

Fri, 2017-12-08 10:42

By Rachael Rettner

Flu season is underway in the United States, and a new report shows that flu activity is already higher than typical for this time of year.

During the week that ended Nov. 25 (the most recent period for which data is available), three Southern states — Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina — reported high levels of flu activity; one state (Georgia) reported moderate flu activity, and the rest reported either low or minimal flu activity, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At this same time last year, no states were reporting high levels of flu activity.

The new CDC report, published Dec. 7, also said that during the week of Thanksgiving, the percentage of people visiting the doctor for flu-like illness was 2.3 percent, which is slightly above the “national baseline” for flu visits — the threshold for what’s typically seen in the off-season — which is 2.2 percent. At this time last year, the percentage of people visiting the doctor for flu-like illness was only 1.9 percent.

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The labs that forge distant planets here on Earth

Fri, 2017-12-08 10:37

By Shannon Hall

Yingwei Fei and his colleagues had spent a month carefully crafting the three slivers of dense silicate — shiny and round, each sample was less than a millimetre thick. But in early November, it was time to say goodbye. Fei carefully packed the samples, plus a few back-ups, in foam and shipped them from Washington DC to Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, the Z Pulsed Power Facility at Sandia National Laboratories will soon send 26 million amps surging towards the slivers, zapping them, one by one, into dust.

The Z machine can replicate the extreme conditions inside detonating nuclear weapons. But Fei, a high-pressure experimental geologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Geophysical Laboratory in Washington DC, has a more otherworldly goal in mind: he hopes to explore how bridgmanite, a mineral found deep beneath Earth’s surface, would behave at the higher temperatures and pressures found inside larger rocky planets beyond the Solar System.

The experiment is one small contribution to exogeology: a research area that is bringing astronomers, planetary scientists and geologists together to explore what exoplanets might look like, geologically speaking. For many scientists, exogeology is a natural extension of the quest to identify worlds that could support life. Already, astronomers have discovered thousands of exoplanets and collected some of their vital statistics, including their masses and radii. Those that orbit in the habitable, or ‘Goldilocks’, zone — a region around the host star that is temperate enough for water to exist in liquid form — are thought to be particularly life-friendly.

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