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One blogger's best and worst of 2013

2013 had ups and downs, and there's still much to do
2013 had ups and downs, and there's still much to do

The Internet has become something of a perpetual time capsule. Every tweet, every Facebook status, and every blog entry we make is saved in perpetuity, sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse. For the start of 2014, I've decided to publish a bit of self-indulgence by counting down my own Top 10. These are the articles I liked the most because you, the reader, liked them the most -- or at the least, you clicked on them an awful lot. Maybe you hated them. Maybe they challenged you.

A lot of these articles have to do with religion, but this isn't about religion. Every one of these stories has sociopolitical implications for all of us, regardless of our beliefs. When religion merges with politics, the political movers and shakers are obliged to start talking about religion. It's my view -- and the words of the Founders agree with me -- that America was intended to be a nation free from religious control of the people. When this ideal has been compromised, all of us must come together to return religious freedom to its rightful place -- the hearts, homes, and minds of free Americans.

In any case, here are the ten biggest stories, for good or ill, that I covered in 2013:

10. America's Shameful Christian Crime Spree

Boy, did this one get people riled up! It was my earliest post of 2013, and one of the most viewed. One of my favorite ways to call attention to privilege is to use the language of oppression to describe the oppressor. In this case, I talked about how Christians were vandalizing atheist billboards at an almost epidemic rate (42% of billboards, at one point) and getting off Scot free. There had even been one young man whose crime was videotaped. To this day, I can't find evidence that he ever paid for his crime.

I also made a prediction:

This is a win-win situation for atheists. A billboard that escapes assault conveys our message to the public. A vandalized billboard is also money well spent. It is a dramatic demonstration of just how marginalized we are, and just how intolerant many Christians are towards us. We can (and do) generate our own publicity through social media and blogs. We energize our philosophical brothers and sisters to continue the work of social change. We become more convinced that our work is necessary.

So far, it seems that I was basically on point. American Atheists have moved up in the world, and this year, they went full digital in the center of Times Square. In addition to being difficult to vandalize successfully, this display generated tons of publicity, tons of controversy, and stories of vandalized billboards have decreased nationwide. We atheists are not going anywhere, and people are beginning to accept that fact.

9. Science Says Atheists Should Come Out of the Closet For Their Own Good

Closely related to the story of Christian hate crimes was this one. Science, it turns out, agrees with the American Atheists. Coming out and being visible is good for us. Here's the bottom line: Christians tend to distrust atheists because they believe us to be immoral and evil. When they're confronted with the fact that lots of people they know are atheists and good people, their views of atheists tend to soften.

This time, science made the prediction, not me. And science was right. Even the pope has begun to include us in his calls for peace. I'm pretty sure that once you play the Vatican, you're on the right path, as atheism goes.

8. Exceptions to 20 Week Abortion Ban Prove Abortion Should Be Legal

Sadly, abortion rights are still being trampled in America. Over the years, I've written a lot about GOP efforts to end women's right to choose, and just how wrong-headed, duplicitous, and downright dishonest their arguments are. When it comes down to brass tacks, blogging about Republican anti-abortion activity is more about choosing which of the dozens of stories to cover than anything else.

In Texas, lawmakers proposed a total ban after 20 weeks (a line of demarcation for which there is no scientific basis) except for cases of rape or incest. Even worse, doctors would be prohibited from performing the procedure unless the crime had been reported to police.

Senator Wendy Davis famously filibustered the bill, and despite protests and public outrage, a special session of the legislature was called to push the measure through. Currently, there are similar bans in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. We have a long way to go on this front.

7. Arkansas School Cancels Graduation Instead of Prayer

This one gets filed under "Truth is Stranger than Fiction." In a bizarre move that generated more negative than positive press, an Arkansas school decided that their 6th Grade graduation wasn't as important as saying a prayer. So they cancelled graduation, rather than take out the Christian invocation.

Like the billboard story, I predicted this as a win for atheists and equality:

The Riverside School District's decision to cancel graduation is a win for secularization. Granted, it's not the best of all situations because there's no graduation. But there's also no illegal prayer in a graduation ceremony, and that's a win. In five years, there will be no long-lasting trauma from missing a grade school ceremony. There will, however, be a long-lasting impact on millions of other children, and for the better.

It's hard to call this one as a hit or a miss at this point. The story has since disappeared from the news site I originally linked to, and it's hard to guess why that might be -- but it hasn't gone away. Lots of people talked about it, and to the best of my knowledge, nothing like this has happened since. Maybe schools are learning? Or maybe the ACLU hasn't put pressure on any other schools? We'll have to wait and see how the next few years turn out, I suppose.

6. Science Completely Contradicts Christian's Anti-gay Bigotry

After infamous Christian bigot Bryan Fischer went on an anti-gay rant on his radio show, I took to the science journals to set him and his fellow Bible-thumpers straight. It was like... um... shooting Fisch in a barrel. The truth is, there's simply no scientific evidence whatsoever that there's anything wrong with being gay. Children of gays turn out fine. Gay couples are as functional as straight couples. Gay marriage has never, ever, ever destroyed society.

I'm very happy to see that America continues to get on board this train. As of Jan 1, 2014, there are 18 states where gay marriage is legal. Utah and New Mexico are the latest additions to this list.

5. Atheist Monument is More American Than the Ten Commandments

Talk about controversial! Nothing's more American than the 10 Commandments, right?

Well, wrong. Of the ten, seven directly contradict American law. On the other hand, the atheist monument erected in Bradford County, Florida, has quotes that directly reflect the American ideals of religious freedom. It was placed alongside a Christian monument as part of a settlement in a case brought by American Atheists. The principle is simple: If you put something from one religion on government property, you have to let other religions -- or people with no religion -- post their views as well.

This story has a happy continuation, if not an ending. Once the floodgates were opened by atheists, things have only gotten worse for Christians who'd like their religion to be the only one recognized by the government. In fact, if Satanists in Oklahoma get their way, they'll get to place their monument right next to a Christian display. If this atheist blogger gets his way, we'll put an end to all of this nonsense and stop putting any religious material on any government property. Stay tuned...

4. NYC Distributes Condoms, then Arrests Women for Having Condoms

This story gets my vote for the strangest story of 2013. With New York City going back and forth over "stop and frisk" policies, nobody seemed to notice that women were taking the brunt of a little-known policy of profiling. Despite the fact that carrying condoms is not illegal in any sense of the word, and despite the fact that the city has a program to distribute condoms to people who need them, police were using condoms as "proof" that women were prostitutes.

A bill which would end this practice has been caught up in red tape since March of 2013.

3. Gross Republican Immorality Results from Abandoning Conservatism

This article didn't get as much attention as the rest on this list, but it's my list, and I think it highlights a very powerful idea, so it's near the top. Complaints can be addressed to me, such that I may ignore them.

The idea is really simple. The Republican Party long ago abandoned conservatism in favor of religious, plutocratic ideology. In point of fact, science is the paragon of conservatism. If you think you're conservative and you are still voting GOP, you may need to consider the famous words of Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

2. The Welfare Question Libertarians Don't Want You to Ask

Libertarianism, Neo-liberalism, and other forms of economic plutocracy remain the platform du jour for the GOP. Back in July, I asked the question they don't want to answer:

If the free market is so great at providing for poor people, why are there so many poor people in the most unregulated and least taxed free market in the First World?

The reaction was visceral, and much discussion ensued, but ultimately, I don't think there's a good answer because the free market has proven itself, over and over, to be absolutely terrible at providing for the poor. In one discussion not so long ago, I made an observation that in hindsight, I wish I'd included in the article itself: "There are many 3rd World countries with more corporate 'freedom' than the U.S. And interestingly, they're all 3rd World.

There just might be a connection..."

1. What if Gun Laws Were Like Abortion Laws?

This article got the most hits of any article last year, and for good reason. If there are two more divisive issues than guns and abortions, I don't know what they are. The GOP, as it turns out, likes to play both sides of this field. Even though guns and abortions are both legal and constitutionally protected, they want to restrict abortion as much as possible while making sure that as many people as possible can buy as many guns as possible.

From the article, here's my take on what gun laws would look like if Republicans treated them like abortion laws:

  • Only one store in the entire state would sell guns. (See: Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming for states with only one abortion provider.)
  • You'd have to fill out an enormous personal background check including intrusive personal information that has nothing to do with your ability to own or use a gun. Then you'd have to wait at least 72 hours and come back to the store. (Remember, it's the only one in the state. You better hope you don't live on the other side of Wyoming.)
  • Upon your return, you'd have to sit through intensive mandatory counseling. Your counselor, regardless of his personal beliefs, would have to tell you that gun ownership is actually a bad idea, and that it would negatively effect your mental health to own a gun. (This, despite there being no scientific evidence to support the claim.)
  • Next, you'd sit through a gruesome movie showing the actual aftermath of domestic gun crimes. You'd see people with half a head. You'd see dead children in their beds. You'd see the bloody aftermath of a school shooting. You'd be shown statistic after statistic warning you that you'd be contributing to this morally degenerate sanctioning of murder.
  • If you lived in Virginia, you'd have to come back (again) for an invasive and uncomfortable fMRI (which costs around $300 out of your pocket) to ensure your honesty in answering all the background check information and your intentions to use your gun responsibly. (This was as close as I could get to the invasive transvaginal procedure included in the recently passed Virginia bill.)
  • Oh... and if you were married, your spouse might have to sign off on your gun ownership.

In my opinion, nothing illustrates the GOP's devotion to ideology more than their treatment of abortion and gun laws. Sadly, it is on these two issues that Republicans have won the most battles in the last year, and it doesn't look like things are going to change anytime soon. I hate that my list has to end on such a depressing topic, but there's no point in sugar coating it.

There are a lot of things that didn't make my list. The Affordable Care Act was probably the biggest story of the year, and it will remain so, at least until November, 2014. Assuming that Democrats keep the Senate, Americans will continue to have medical insurance protections and affordable options. There was a domestic terror attack in Boston. We argued and continue to argue about the government surveillance of U.S. citizens. The GOP continues to infringe on voting rights after the Supreme Court reversed half a century of civil rights progress. The U.S. government shut down.

Such is the nature of lists. We all have things that we feel really strongly about, and that's a wonderful thing. Social activism works best when lots of people follow their own hearts and work in their own ways to make the world a better place. In 2014, I'm going to keep working in my way, highlighting the injustices that boil my blood the most, and exposing oppression and atrocity where I see it. I'm not a huge fan of "New Years Resolutions," because these are things we typically break by Easter. Even so, I think this is a good time for us to reflect on where we've been in the last year, and in the process, see just how far we have to go. Maybe in the process of reflection, we will gain some measure of motivation to work just a little harder to make the world better.

Welcome to 2014. Let's not wish for a better year. Let's make one.

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