Is Kabul the Capital of Oklahoma?

March 16, 2009

My colleague, Derek Araujo, notes in his blog entry for March 12 that the Afghan Supreme Court just upheld a twenty-year sentence for blasphemy. This is a sad reminder of the suppression of free speech and critical thinking frequently done in the name of religion. Thank goodness nothing remotely resembling this outrage could happen in this country!

Well, at least if you exclude Oklahoma from the United States. (Come to think of it…) Some of you may have heard that after some Oklahoma legislators learned Richard Dawkins was going to be speaking at the University of Oklahoma, a resolution was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives by Rep. Todd Thomsen condemning the visit and calling upon the university to disinvite him. One of the most ridiculous statements in the resolution was that the university lecture by Dawkins was inappropriate because his views "are not shared [by] a majority of the citizens of Oklahoma." That Thomsen could insert such a statement in his proposed resolution speaks volumes about his understanding of free speech and the role of a public university.

But this is just another instance of a moronic mossback making a public spectacle of himself, right? Maybe not. Apparently Thomsen and his allies are not going to let this matter rest. The Oklahoma legislature is rumored to be "investigating" the event, using as a pretext the expenditure of state funds in connection with the lecture. (Dawkins received no state money for the event, but indirectly state money supported the event since it was held at a public university.) It’s not clear what the investigation is supposed to discover. A plot by atheists to undermine the United States by corrupting its youth? Presumably that’s why Dawkins went to Oklahoma - a state known for its intellectual leadership. In reality, of course, the investigation is not a genuine effort to uncover illegal or inappropriate conduct. It is a transparent attempt to intimidate the faculty and students who arranged the Dawkins visit.

Even with the bullying tactics of Thomsen, this episode is more farce than substantive threat to free speech. By contrast, Islamic fundamentalism in countries such as Afghanistan is a scourge and a very real threat to fundamental liberties. Still, it is a sobering thought that while we have soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan to help preserve some small measure of freedom, there are still many religious fundamentalists in the U.S. who, if they had their way, would silence skeptics and insulate religious dogma from rational critique.

For more on the Oklahoma incident, see   Greg Lukianoff’s article .



#1 bigjohn756 (Guest) on Monday March 16, 2009 at 1:28pm

Hey!  What you got against old turtles anyway?

Seriously, I expect Thomsen, et al, will try to spin Dawkins’ speech into a religious one so that they can charge a violation of the First Amendment. I think that might backfire rather nicely for us if it happens.

#2 P. Fidalgo on Monday March 16, 2009 at 6:35pm

I actually think this will go somewhere. Any “investigation” will easily find how state funds somewhere somehow were used in support of the event, which, as the previous commenter noted, will be seen as “favoring” a view on religious matters (in this case, that there is no matter to religious matters). I worry, of course, that it then becomes trouble for the university, you need to start worrying about what the cavepeople in the legislature think of their obvious bias toward evil, militant atheism.

#3 Kevin (Guest) on Tuesday March 17, 2009 at 6:29am

I doubt it will do much good, but I sent the following letter to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) //';l[1]='a';l[2]='/';l[3]='<';l[4]=' 117';l[5]=' 100';l[6]=' 101';l[7]=' 46';l[8]=' 117';l[9]=' 111';l[10]=' 64';l[11]=' 101';l[12]=' 110';l[13]=' 105';l[14]=' 108';l[15]=' 110';l[16]=' 111';l[17]=' 105';l[18]=' 116';l[19]=' 99';l[20]=' 97';l[21]='>';l[22]='\"';l[23]=' 117';l[24]=' 100';l[25]=' 101';l[26]=' 46';l[27]=' 117';l[28]=' 111';l[29]=' 64';l[30]=' 101';l[31]=' 110';l[32]=' 105';l[33]=' 108';l[34]=' 110';l[35]=' 111';l[36]=' 105';l[37]=' 116';l[38]=' 99';l[39]=' 97';l[40]=':';l[41]='o';l[42]='t';l[43]='l';l[44]='i';l[45]='a';l[46]='m';l[47]='\"';l[48]='=';l[49]='f';l[50]='e';l[51]='r';l[52]='h';l[53]='a ';l[54]='<'; for (var i = l.length-1; i >= 0; i=i-1){ if (l[i].substring(0, 1) == ' ') output += "&#"+unescape(l[i].substring(1))+";"; else output += unescape(l[i]); } document.getElementById('eeEncEmail_GQCbbsKvg3').innerHTML = output; //]]> . I’m not sure whom it will reach that way, nor if there was a better place I could have sent it. It’s a bit wordy, but I meant it to express my support (as can be seen from the text below) for the university during this crisis, which I have been following through CFI since its inception.

<Original letter follows>
To Whom it May Concern:

This letter is not a request for information, and as such requires no response. Nor am I a resident of Oklahoma, a native of the same, or an alumnus of the university. I am nothing more and nothing less than a concerned citizen following Mr. Thomsen’s shameful and misguided witch hunt from across the country.

Couched in laudable terms supposedly promoting free inquiry and open debate, which is something America needs a lot more of—especially at her public universities—in order to be what her citizens want her to be, this “investigation” is nothing but a sham fear-mongering tactic by an overzealous state legislator trying to court the radical Christian vote. As educators and administrators of public education, I of course have no need to remind anyone who will read this that Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution constitute the core and foundation of modern biology, and indeed many other branches of science which could not be understood as they currently are in other terms. The alleged controversy alluded to in Mr. Thomsen’s draft legislation reflects the same tired memes that have pervaded fundamentalist Christian anti-evolution activism for decades. Indeed, it is the very same attitudes that drive this sort of thinking, and more devastatingly, the results of constant attacks like this from prominent but misguided, powerful but misinformed individuals and groups that cause our free, democratic First World nation to continue to elicit comparisons to dreadfully bleak countries (in terms, at least, of intellectual landscape and freedom of conscience) like Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan.

The purpose of this letter is to express support for the university, and support for education. I applaud the effort to educate students on the fundamental theory of modern biology, “unpopular” (at least among the misinformed and all too propagandized citizenry) as it may be. It is my sincere hope that the school will stand up for educating its students to the best of its ability, as reflected by the Zoology Department’s “Darwin 2009” project, and which of course should be the mission of every educational institution, public or otherwise. Please continue your efforts to stand up for human knowledge, as determined by experiment, observation, empirical data, and the best science available, and not shaped by any popular sentiment or the propaganda of groups with a metaphysical agenda to promote. I look forward to the potential for very positive developments in this case, and I urge the faculty and administration not to cow to such pathetic bullying.

Hopefully, the end result of this will be nothing more than the discontinued political career of Mr. Thomsen, whose name was previously unknown to many outside Oklahoma until he chose to make himself a symbol of tarnishing the state’s reputation nationally as well as probably abroad. Although I may be one of the few to express this view, many Americans are “with you” in the fight to oppose the politicization of science and the watering down of education in favor of the views of an artificially inflated minority. As impotent as this may sound and indeed may be, please let me know if there is anything further I can do to offer support. Best of luck, and let’s all hope this ends quickly.

#4 joshualipana on Tuesday March 17, 2009 at 11:53pm

Just makes my blood boil.

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