Monday, February 25, 2013

55% of Ventura County residents are non-religious

On Wednesday, Feb. 20, the Ventura County Civic Alliance released a "State of the Region" Report which highlighted a number of demographics for the County of Ventura. One of the more interesting disclosures was that a majority 55% of county residents were non-religious, dwarfing the religious adherents in the county. Of the 45% of residents who considered themselves religious, almost 2/3, or 64%, considered themselves Catholic. (64% x 45% = 29% of County residents) That left only 16.2% of residents making up the remaining total religious adherents! Yet as we have seen in recent years, our local, state, and national representatives consistently and continuously prefer to promote religious favoritism, from mounting prominent signs with religious slogans in the city hall chamber at Port Hueneme to the Simi Valley city council refusing to take down a plaque which irrationally conflates religion with patriotism to our Congressional representatives Brownley & McKeon voting for a law to override Constitutional safeguards and 50 years of federal policy to provide federal funds directly to churches for rebuilding property that is damaged due to natural forces. And, of course, no elected or appointed VC official at any level has taken any interest in the ongoing disclosures from the Catholic pedophile scandal that harmed hundreds of our children in the county and continues to put them at risk. We have some of the most draconian sex-offender laws, all but stripping one-time sexual offenders of rights and dignity, requiring them to put signs on their houses and banning them from living anywhere near any schools or even opening their front doors on Halloween; yet every Catholic church and school in this county continues to operate with impunity and even political deference despite having been identified as having been complicit in supporting and protecting pedophiles that preyed on our children. Where is the sense in this? Why do our elected representatives continue to seek favors and benefits for institutions that are not sought or supported by a majority of their constituents, and to do so in the face of clear and longstanding Constitutional boundaries?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

2012 NDOP Breakfast in Ventura County

The Ventura County Star covered the breakfast held on May 3 in Thousand Oaks as part of this year's National Day of Prayer.  This faith-only event was hosted by the SE Ventura County YMCA.  It also included invocations from religious leaders from Christian Non-Demoninational, Lutheran, Islamic and Jewish faiths. The keynote speaker was retired Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks, who spoke on the national theme of “One Nation Under God.”
Sheriff Brook’s presentation was disappointing but unsurprising.  He actually said that he "did not understand why this phrase was controversial" in today’s America.  Clearly he was not aware or interested in the polls that showed some 15% of Americans as being non-religious.
Then, while he went on to decry what he described as “an incessant wave” of people trying to “remove God from public life”, he pointedly failed to comment on the far larger “incessant wave” of efforts of religious groups trying to inject religious sentiments and beliefs into our government institutions and schools, as recently exemplified just this past year in both Port Hueneme and Camarillo where motions to have the unquestionably religious phrase “In God We Trust” prominently displayed in the council chambers were introduced in both city councils and actually adopted by one of them.  Or in the recent success of aggressive religious groups fighting their way into our public elementary schools to proselytize to our children.
Brooks also seemed quite confused about our nation’s founding documents. He was liberal in his interpretation of the Declaration of Independence and focused on the phrase “Creator” to necessarily mean that the founders were trying to tie our nation's legitimacy to [Brooks'] god, entirely missing the point of the phrase to emphasize the inalienable human rights that all people have. Then, in a slight of speech that makes one wonder how well-versed Sheriff Brooks really was on US founding documents, he concludes that “There is no other Constitution in the world that gives God credit for giving men rights.”
Setting aside the fact that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are not the same document, it's a fact that the government of almost every country prior to the 20th century (and going all the way back at least to the Sumerians in the Early Bronze Age) claimed its legitimacy from God – we called them “monarchies”.  The United States was unique in that our Constitution was the first national charter that explicitly left out any such claim.  It is more than a little ingenuous for Sheriff Brooks to claim just the opposite, unless he truly just skipped out of American History in high school. But then he shouldn’t have considered himself qualified to speak about the Constitution at this or any other event.
Of course, people are free to hear and say whatever they want in this country as private individuals, and I'm sure that the religious crowd on hand wasn't all that picky about historical accuracy.
Brooks wrapped up his speech claiming that “Our land needs to be healed. It’s torn. It’s divided.” Apparently with no recognition or appreciation of the irony whatsoever that he was expressing such sentiments at an event specifically intended to divide Americans, promoting those who are religious and marginalizing those who aren't.  (Or did the Star reporter just neglect to mention the reason-based speakers included at the event?)
I do love this year’s theme for the National Day of Prayer: “One Nation Under God.” Could there be any more damning evidence that this phrase is and is intended to be religious, and therefore unconstitutional in government ceremonies? After all, when’s the last time that the NDOP or any national religious rally offered a theme of “Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers Belatedly Responds

The Ventura County Star published on-line a letter from the president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), Jason Torpy:

I doubt it will make the printed version.

Response from Councilmember Glen Becerra

In my last post, I mentioned a certified letter than I had sent to Councilmember Williamson in late August, to which I still have received no response or acknowledgement.

Knowing that Councilmember Becerra did 'own up' to receiving my letters over the past year, I sent a 2nd certified copy of my letter for Ms. Williamson to Mr. Becerra with a cover letter asking him to pass on his copy to Ms. Williamson as a failsafe in case Ms. Williamson failed to receive the certified letter I sent directly to her. (Oh well.)

To my surprise, on Monday, Aug. 29, I received a phone call from Mr. Becerra, inviting me to meet with him! He was quite polite and willing to accommodate me either before or after the work day.  I accepted, and we agreed to meet for a short breakfast meeting at a local cafe later in the week.

I thought it was a productive meeting. Prior to our meeting, Becerra did some research and tried to find out from where and when the poster had arrived at the city. The first misperception that Becerra cleared up for me is that the poster had nothing to do with the recent "Support Our Troops" city campaign and was not purchased or ordered by the city. He advised me that such posters are often presented to the city and to the council by private organizations, and they are turned over to city staff to hang in the building or not as they see fit. He said that the council has never been consulted by the city or anyone else on poster placements in the city building while he has served.

The poster apparently arrived many years ago. The back of the poster showed a sticker from Judy Mikel's framing shop.  Judy Mikels served as a Simi Valley Councilmember from 1990 to 1994, when she was elected to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. She ran her framing business until her supervisorial election, when she turned the business over to her son. So Becerra's best estimate is that the poster has been in the city building for at least 16 years, longer than I've even lived in Simi Valley.

So why would I not have noticed the poster until last year?  Becerra offered a theory.  He doesn't know how long the poster has been hanging in the city council chamber foyer, but he was able to confirm that it was recently (in the past couple of years) moved to its current location - about 18 inches away from its prior location across a wall corner.  City staff were able to point out the nailholes in the wall where the poster had prior resided.

Becerra also offered that if one arrives at a council meeting prior to its starting time, the two wall corners are hidden behind the open chamber doors.  The doors have to be closed to see the wall corners. He suggested that I would have had to have arrived some time after the start of the councilmeeting when the doors had been shut to have noticed the poster.

That made sense to me.

With that misunderstanding cleared up, I admitted to Becerra that I had little justification to fault the current council for a poster that had been in the city building longer than I had lived in Simi.

Nonetheless, I affirmed with Becerra that my issue was one of inclusion and representation. I wasn't as hung up over the constitutionality of the poster display (despite the representations made by the local paper) as I was about a display sponsored by the city that represented all city constituents.  Becerra said he did understand and appreciated that, and offered that he tries to 'avoid politics' and make council decisions based on what's best for the entire city, not just for those that might agree with his views.  And with that, we shook hands and proceded with our respective days.

I very much appreciated Councilmember Becerra's reachout and spending time and effort to hear my concerns and answer my questions - especially since we mutually agreed that we are on opposite ends of the political spectrum (Becerra has been aware of other political actions I've engaged in, and frankly stated he was 'not a fan'.)

Nonetheless, my latest letter over the poster was to Ms. Williamson, not Mr. Becerra, in response to very different claims and assertions made by Ms. Williamson - and to-date, Ms. Williamson has not deemed me worthy to receive any further acknowledgement from her.  If only she could pick up some tips on constituent management from Mr. Becerra!

(Non-)Update from Councilmember Williamson

As I posted back on August 15, I had sent a response letter to Councilmember Barbra Williamson, who had taken the time to write a diatribe letter to me and have it published in the Ventura County Star.

As she had claimed in her letter that she had never gotten any of the letters I had sent to her over the past year, I decided to send my response to her via her email address posted on the City of Simi Valley website.

Several days later, Ms. Williamson sent an email to me, advising me that she 'understood' that I had sent a response email to her, but that she had never received it!  And that she was advising me of this because she didn't want to be accused again of ignoring constituent communications.

OK, a bit odd that she 'knew' of my letter but didn't actually 'receive' it. Alright, fine, I then printed out my reply and sent her a copy of it via certified mail with return receipt on Monday, August 22. The confirmation of receipt I received back showed someone at the city had signed for it on Thursday, August 25.

It is now approaching two weeks since it was received.  And still no response from Ms. Williamson.

So much for her claim that she responds to all constituent communications. I feel truly sorry for anyone else who tries to reach her, I have to presume they'll be disappointed.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rotary Membership of SV City Councilmembers

I was stunned to learn today that all of the current Simi Valley city council are active Rotarians!

Three of them, Glen Becerra, Bob Huber, and Mike Judge, are members of the Rotary Club of Simi Valley.
Steven Sojka also claims on his campaign website that he has been a member of the RCSV since 1990, but he's not currently included in the members list on the RCSV website.

Barbra Williamson is also a Rotarian, but inexplicably a member of the Rotary Club of Moorpark rather than any of the 3 clubs in Simi Valley.

I should also note that ex-Mayor Paul Miller and ex-Councilmember Michelle Foster, both of whom were on the Simi Valley City Council when the religious "support the troops" poster was installed in the city council chamber foyer, are members of the Simi Valley Sunrise Rotary Club. (Miller is a charter member of that club)

Rotary is a most phenomenal volunteer service organization.  It has been around for over 100 years, and among the numerous other accomplishments it can claim as its own in improving the quality of life for millions of people around the globe, it has also had the proud distinction of being instrumental in driving the dreaded disease of polio to the brink of extinction.

I have only the highest admiration for the Rotary Club and its mission and amazing accomplishments. I also have quite a few family members who are Rotarians, some who have served in fairly high positions in the organization.  So even though I am not personally a Rotarian (one has to be invited to join by a local clubmember), I do know quite a bit about the organization.

Here's why I am amazed that our city councilmembers are all Rotarians.  As part of its mission, Rotary encourages the highest standards of ethics from its members. Those standards are throughout its guiding principles. Rotary believes that service to others is the highest ethical action one can pursue.

Rotary has something called the "Four-Way Test".  This test is used to determine the moral weight of a considered action.  If an action passes this Four-Way Test, it is worthy of a Rotarian to pursue. If it does not, it is not worthy of pursuit.

Here's the Test (taken verbatim from
  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
Looking over this test, I cannot figure out how this religious poster in City Hall meets any, let alone all, of these test questions.  In contrast to the clear intent of common benefit and inclusion of this test, the city hall poster is NOT fair to me or my family; it does NOT build goodwill or better friendships with my community; and because of its controversy and divisiveness, it is certainly NOT beneficial to the city.  (I won't quibble about the 'Truth' question, although as an atheist, I certainly think that, too, is more than a little questionable.)

I would be most interested to hear from the councilmembers how they reconcile their actions and their support for this poster with Rotary's Four-Way Test.  I cannot imagine how that can be done.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

VC Star Continues Controversy Coverage

The Ventura County Star continues its coverage of this controversy, along with my suggestion for a "foxhole atheists" poster to be added next to the current religious poster to make the display more inclusive.

The Star didn't make any mention of my request for an explanation of exactly how the current religious poster was chosen, although the current article does include a quote from Glen Becerra that "the city council doesn't get involved in [deciding what posters to hang and where], because they can be seen as politically motivated."

Ya think?  So we're to believe that the Council doesn't advise city staff about what is hung in the Council Chambers foyer, and that they refrained from offering any opinion about the current religious poster?  Becerra's and Williamson's comments the night of my presentation to the Council strongly suggested otherwise, of course.  But perhaps they can ask City Manager Mike Sedell how the poster got there and let us all know.

Mentioned only obliquely in the article is that Councilmember Williamson hadn't seen my email request, even though it was sent to her council email address (posted on the Simi Valley City Council website) on Sunday.  This, following a letter complaining to the Star that she never received my postal letters to her earlier this year!  Is the Simi Valley city communication system really that unreliable?   With such a poor record, how does anyone get an answer from the city on anything?