Ayaan Hirsi Ali Draws Criticism from Fellow Atheists at Yale

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, photographed at the Neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute. Photo courtesy of AEI/RNS.

A campus appearance by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the outspoken Muslim-turned-atheist activist, is being challenged again, this time at Yale University where she is scheduled to speak Sept. 15.

While her previous campus critics have included members of religious groups, especially Muslims, this time the critics include Ali’s fellow ex-Muslims and atheists.

“We do not believe Ayaan Hirsi Ali represents the totality of the ex-Muslim experience,” members of Yale Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics posted on Facebook Sept. 12. “Although we acknowledge the value of her story, we do not endorse her blanket statements on all Muslims and Islam.”

Those statements include calling Islam “the new fascism” and “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.” She has called for the closing of Muslim schools in the West, where she settled after immigrating from her native Somalia, and is a vocal advocate for the rights of women and girls in Islam.

House Rejects Call to Allow Nonreligious Military Chaplains

Photo courtesy Blaj Gabriel/

Army soldier reading bible ,selective focus on book and hands. Photo courtesy Blaj Gabriel/

House lawmakers late Tuesday approved an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill to prevent the appointment of nonreligious military chaplains.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John C. Fleming, R-La., requires that only religious organizations be permitted to endorse chaplains for the military.

“The amendment holds the military to its current standards on endorsing agencies, which must be recognized religious and faith-based organizations,” said Fleming’s spokesman, Doug Sachtleben.

One Scouts Ban Remains Intact: Atheists

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

A Boy Scout marches with his troop during the Memorial Day parade in Smithtown, N.Y. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

The decision by the Boy Scouts of America to accept openly gay Scouts has raised the question: Are atheists and other nonbelievers — the only remaining group BSA still bans — next?

No one is holding their breath, least of all Neil Polzin, an Eagle Scout who was fired from his job in 2009 as an aquatics director at a Boy Scout camp in San Diego after he admitted to being an atheist.

“I don’t see that happening, at least not in the immediate future,” Polzin said. “The focus has always been on the Scouts’ discrimination against gays and it seems atheists were always on a back burner or not discussed at all.”

But that doesn’t mean nonbelievers — atheists, humanists, and other nontheists — have abandoned their quest for inclusion. In the wake of the BSA’s May 23 vote that led to the inclusion of gay Scouts — but not gay scoutmasters — every major organization of nonbelievers has issued a statement condemning their continued exclusion.

A BSA official declined to comment, but issued a statement that said, in part, that since the organization had “just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.”

The problem for atheists lies in an oath in which scouts promise to “do my duty to God and my country.” Some nonbelievers have suggested their sons change the word “God” to “good,” but the BSA has remained firm. Some atheist children have been asked to leave after years in Scouting when it was revealed that they did not believe in God.

Humanists Find Ways to Say ‘I Do’ Without God

Amanda Holowaty holds a photo of she and her husband Mike Holowaty on their wedding day in May 2012. Photo courtesy RNS.

Amanda Holowaty didn’t need God to get married. She just needed her husband Mike.

When the Wilmington atheist couple decided to join their lives a year ago, they knew they wanted a secular wedding celebrant, but their families weren’t so sure. Her family is Methodist and his is “generally spiritual.” And they worried about even telling Mike’s grandmother, who is Eastern Orthodox. So they found a wedding celebrant ordained through the Humanist Society, Han Hills, who allowed their family members to read a spiritual poem.

“Nobody seemed to notice that we didn’t mention God,” Holowaty said. “People came up afterward and said it was one of the best weddings they’d seen.”

Mass. Supreme Court to Hear Case Against ‘Under God’

Massachusetts state seal.

Massachusetts state seal.

Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a non-religious family that's challenging the mandatory daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in their children’s classrooms.

The family, who are secular humanists, claim that the phrase “under God” in the pledge is a violation of the state’s constitutional ban on religious discrimination.

In June, a lower court ruled against the family, saying the required recitation of the pledge was not discriminatory because it did not uphold one religion over another. The family appealed, and will now gain a hearing from the state’s highest court.

The battle to remove “under God” from the pledge has been a long and, so far, unsuccessful one within atheist circles. California atheist Michael Newdow unsuccessfully argued for its removal before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004.

This time, the suit seeks protection under a state constitution’s equal protection measure, not under the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the separation of church and state.

“There is very little case law that precedes this,” said Bill Burgess, director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, which is representing the plaintiffs. “The court will be making new law when it issues its decision.”