Sunday, October 19, 2014

Union’s claim about Elorza and God is extreme

Union’s claim about Elorza and God is extreme


Union’s claim about Elorza and God is extreme

“Extremist.” That’s one of the ways the Providence firefighters union describes Democratic mayoral candidate Jorge O. Elorza in a recent mailing to city residents.
The mailer was sent out in early October by Local 799 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has endorsed Elorza’s opponent, Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., in the race for mayor.
It listed three reasons to vote against Elorza. The first? He lacks experience. The second? Elorza, the firefighters say, supports a municipal income tax. Politi-Fact Rhode Island examined this claim when it was made by Cianci last month and ruled it False.
The third? “Elorza wants to teach our public school children about the ‘nonexistence of God,’ ” the piece said.
The basis for the claim is cited in the mailer: an article that Elorza, a law professor and former Housing Court judge, had published in the University of Pittsburgh Law Review in 2010. The 54-page article, “Secularism and the Constitution: Can Government Be Too Secular?,” sets out to answer a question.
“If scientific evidence leads us to conclude that a particular aspect of God cannot be true, can this be taught in the public schools?” wrote Elorza, who is on a leave of absence from Roger Williams University School of Law, where he teaches constitutional law and other subjects.
The article defines four views of God: the atheist view, in which God does not exist; the deist view, which holds that God created the universe but has no influence on daily events; the theist view, which holds that God is not only the creator but also an intervenor in the world’s affairs; and what Elorza calls the “memist” view in which God lays down a moral code but “resides entirely in the minds of its adherents.”
Elorza focuses on the theist view, arguing that it violates the laws of physics. Science, he says, proves that the theist God does not exist. And U.S. courts have generally ruled that something can be taught in the public schools that may contradict a religious belief if science supports it. Evolution is one example that Elorza gives.
As for the three other views of God, Elorza makes it clear that their existence cannot be proven one way or another. Thus, no argument can be made to support teaching that they do not exist, and doing so would violate the Constitution, according to Elorza.
So what is his answer to the question that he posed at the beginning of the article?
“I conclude, first, that teaching that the theist God does not exist would not violate any of the underlying values, and second, that the consequences of doing so are not as far-reaching as may be initially believed,” Elorza wrote.
Elorza may have concluded, in his lengthy academic paper, that it is legally defensible to teach the nonexistence of one particular aspect of God, but nowhere in the article does he say that he wants schools to teach it.
Much has been written by others on local blogs on this subject, but we couldn’t find any public statements made by Elorza advocating that schools adopt the position.
In fact, he said just the opposite during a WPRI-12 debate in August, when asked by reporter Ted Nesi about the law review article.
“I don’t seek to have this be taught in the public schools,” Elorza said. “This is a hypothetical that I laid out over 60 pages in an academic article.”
“And it’s not something that you would seek to implement in the Providence schools?” Nesi asked.
“Absolutely not,” Elorza replied.
Derek Silva, secretary of the firefighters union, told us that Elorza is now trying to distance himself from the article.
When we contacted Elorza’s campaign, his spokesman, David Ortiz, defended the candidate.
“Jorge was raised Christian,” Ortiz said in an email. “He believes in God. He does not want to teach atheism in schools, and has never made that suggestion anywhere.”
Our ruling
The Providence firefighters union says that Jorge Elorza is an extremist who wants public schools to teach that God does not exist.
But their only evidence is a misreading of a 2010 academic article Elorza wrote. Nowhere in the 54-page article does Elorza say he wants public schools to teach that there is no God.
Elorza has said repeatedly that’s not his view, and we could find no public statements by him that suggest otherwise.
This is an inflammatory claim that has no basis in fact.
It’s a good thing the firefighters union has experience dealing with flames, because we rule this claim Pants on Fire.
If you have a claim you’d like PolitiFact Rhode Island to check, e-mail us at
And follow us on Twitter: @politifactri.
(401) 277-7457 On Twitter: @KuffnerAlex

Mailer: “Jorge Elorza is the Wrong Choice,” Providence Fire Fighters IAFF Local 799, Oct. 8, 2014
Email: Derek Silva, secretary, Providence Fire Fighters IAFF Local 799, Oct. 14, 2014
Interview and email: David Ortiz, spokesman, Jorge Elorza for Mayor of Providence, Oct. 15, 2014
Article:, “Secularism and the Constitution: Can Government Be Too Secular?,” University of Pittsburgh Law Review, 2010, accessed Oct. 9, 2014
Article:, “Jorge O. Elorza,” Faculty Spotlights, Roger Williams University School of Law, accessed Oct. 9, 2014
Article:, “Explaining a World Without a Theist God, in Less than 60 Pages,” Sept. 2, 2014, accessed Oct. 14, 2014
Website:, “Is Jorge Elorza an atheist?,” Sept. 4, 2014, accessed Oct. 14, 2014
Debate:, “Newsmakers Providence Mayor Debate: Jorge Elorza, Michael Solomon,” Aug. 29, 2014, accessed Oct. 14, 2014
Website:, “Buddy Cianci says Jorge Elorza wants to impose a municipal income tax for Providence,” Sept. 12, 2014, accessed Oct. 14, 2014
More online at

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Catholic Church's new 'positive tone' an illusion

Over the last few days the Roman Catholic Church has been the recipient of much undeserved positive press over a new report issuing from a two week long meeting of bishops concerning pastoral care for families and the treatment of LGBTQ people. Headlines blared “Southern New England Catholics welcome [new] tone from Vatican” and the positive, more open and less judgmental heard in early excerpts of the document leaked to the press were credited to the influence of Pope Francis.

The volume on that welcoming tone has been significantly turned down in excerpts from the newly revised document, and really, is anyone surprised? The altered document has pulled away from inclusiveness and has found safety in the comfortable embrace of a church that continues to peddle sex as sin and orientation as perversity. How different is this new document? The word “welcoming” has literally been edited out.

The first clue that things weren’t going to go the way most Catholics would like them to was Bishop Tobin’s statement to Channel 10 News, linked above. Despite all the positive words about the new document coming from Catholics in Providence and Fall River, no officials from either Diocese would go on camera about the report. Bishop Tobin in particular seemed eager to splash cold water on the rising tide of inclusiveness:

“Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin said in a statement that it would be ‘premature to come to any conclusions’ about the report in regards to both content and tone.”

Tobin remembered what the media and many Catholics forgot: There is a powerful core of conservative intolerance within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Tobin knows this because he is a vocal representative of the conservative Catholic Church in America, even going so far as to partner with MassResistance, an anti-homosexuality hate group out of Massachusetts when battling against marriage equality here in Rhode Island.

Despite what many will tell you, the Catholic Church does change. Perhaps one day, far in the future, LGBTQ people will be welcomed into the Roman Catholic Church. In the meantime, the church will continue to exert its power and tear apart families over meaningless issues such as sexual orientation, birth control, women’s equality and divorce. As Cardinal Burke, another hard-line conservative Catholic who advocates shunning family members involved in homosexual relationships says, “What would it mean to grandchildren to have present at a family gathering a family member who is living [in] a disordered relationship with another?”

It would be better by far for a Catholic family to make a gay son or daughter as unwelcome as possible. Until this kind of bigotry is confronted and rooted out, there will be no “positive tone” in the Roman Catholic Church.

Render to Tobin the things that are Tobin's...

I'm not a theologian, but it occurs to me that Bishop Tobin, who has been making national headlines for suggesting that Catholic voters in Rhode Island vote for Mother Teresa (or not at all) instead of voting for either of the two pro-choice candidates for governor could have looked to Jesus when giving advice on religion versus politics. Specifically Mark 12:17, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Jesus crafted this answer to what amounted to a trick question from some shifty Pharisees and Herodians who asked if it was permissible to pay taxes with coins emblazoned with Caesar's image, a man who had declared himself a God. This could be a problem for many observant Jews, because the first of the so-called "Ten Commandments" decrees there is but one God, and that false idols are sinful.

If Jesus said, "don't pay your taxes" that would have been a crime. If he said, "I don't see a problem with Caesar as God" that would have undermined his religious authority. Cleverly, Jesus worded his answer to neatly differentiate between the secular and religious, in essence saying, "you have a civic and a religious duty" and that the two are separate.

Hence, it could be argued that Jesus here invented the handy idea of separation of church and state, later expanded upon and put into practice by Roger Williams when he helped found Rhode Island as the first government, anywhere in the world, to enshrine church/state separation and liberty of conscience into law.

So there's a tinge of irony here as a bishop from Rhode Island has become so caught up in mixing politics and religion that he is actually recommending abstaining from voting altogether or wasting a vote on a dead woman, though buried in Tobin's original essay is a third option, not much reported. One could vote for the "lesser of two evils," who in this case turns out to be the Republican candidate.

Does Tobin have any allegiance to the Republican Party? Turns out he's a very public member. I guess you can't stand up for the principles of church/state separation when you don't actually believe in them...