Purdue University Lecture: Jennifer McCreight, Indiana Theocracy
Former Purdue Society of Non-Theists president, Jennifer McCreight, gave an open lecture at Purdue University. She is currently a PhD student in Genome Sciences at the University of Washington. Jennifer is also on the Board of Directors for the Secular Student Alliance, and an avid blogger (http://freethoughtblogs.com/blaghag). This event, titled “Indiana Theocracy”, took place on March 22, 2012 at WTHR, room 172, from 6:30pm-8:00pm.
I was really excited to hear about Jennifer McCreight visiting Purdue to give a lecture about Indiana and religion. I love learning about intersections of gender, culture, politics and religion. The lecture “Indiana Theocracy” was bound to incorporate all of those relevant social topics. The topics were then divided into categories, such as bad science, women’s issues, LGBT concerns and school politics.
Jennifer started her lecture by providing some basic information regarding her association with Indiana. Having grown up in Muncie, she experienced living within the context of a white-collar community. Her family was not religious; rather they followed secular values and only cultural aspects of Christian holidays. For Jennifer, middle-school and high-school involved simple and calm discussions regarding religion.
Upon graduating high-school and starting college at Purdue University in West Lafayette, McCreight encountered a culture shock. Of the 40,000 people that attended Purdue, there was surprisingly very little representation for non-theists. Christian organizations were prominent and well spoken; what was an Atheist to do?
Jennifer took the initiative to start her own organization, known as The Purdue Society Of Non-theists. Then group is relevant to both students and community members alike. Indiana itself has a large population of Roman Catholics and Christians in general, with signs such as “Hell Is Real” to prove this existence. The Indiana state license plate totes the message, “In God We Trust”. People that have hardly heard of Indiana have the impression of an unimportant state filled with corn.
Jennifer decided to do some further research about the state, seeing what connections existed between the demographic and culture. She found a quote by Governor Mitch Daniels correlating Atheism with immorality, violence and un-American values. To further this ignorant notion, Daniels ignorantly declared that Hitler was an Atheist. Indiana Republican representative, Phillip Hinkle, was known to be against gay marriage. Yet he was ironically caught soliciting a gay prostitute on craigslist, using his public e-mail address!
The category of bad science was bound to invoke rage into the hearts of most technical minded people. Jennifer started with Senate Bill 89, an attempt to push creationism into the public school system by Senator Dennis Kruse. In trying to kill the bill, Senator Simpson amended it to add “Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and Scientology” perspectives. House Speaker, Brian Bosma, finally killed the bill to prevent inevitable lawsuits that would have occurred. The bill was pushing for religious ideas to be taught in a public classroom, which was clearly unconstitutional.
Along with this notion of ignoring the separation of church and state, is the idea of school prayers. Once again Senator Dennis Kraus attempted to push for students to recite prayer in schools. The reasoning behind this was the following: “…In order that each student recognize the importance of spiritual development in establishing character and becoming a good citizen…” Thus, if you do not wish to recite the prayer you are automatically of bad character and not a good citizen.
Recently there has been quite a political uproar from the religious right, regarding women’s health issues. The political fights involving contraception have been referred to as a “war on women” by feminists. The issue of abortion is such a clear insight into gender discrimination regarding politics. In Indiana, House Bill 1210 declares abortions to be illegal after 20 weeks, while cutting state funding to Planned Parenthood. The Indiana definition of “human life” starts when a sperm fertilizes an egg. Doctors are required to tell their patients that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, justified by “objective science”. Upon McCreight’s investigation into this statement, she found no citation or explanation of where that “science” came from.
To add insult to injury, Representative Eric Turner referred to accounts of incest and rape as abortion “loopholes”. He claimed that women could lie about their pregnancies in order to gain access to abortion clinics. This notion is just plain insulting to all women, especially to victims of such abuse. The mistreatment of women needing help regarding abortions doesn’t stop there. Pregnant Indiana resident Bei Bei Shuai was convicted for murder when she attempted to kill herself due to depression. Instead of receiving proper counseling and treatment, she was incarcerated.
In Indiana, the LGBT community faces challenges from residents and Indiana culture. The Girls Scouts were rejected by Representative Bob Morris, out of the ignorant misunderstandings found on the internet. Morris was convinced the Girl Scouts represented Planned Parenthood’s hidden agenda to infiltrate American youth. He also noted that transvestite boys should not try to join the organization, just like “real girls”.
Jennifer McCreight’s speak provided insight into how fundamentalist ideas of religion can affect public policy. Minority groups are certainly at risk for being oppressed by majority rules and ideas. Indiana culture is certainly infiltrated with such dogma, causing stigma for any that want to protest these set norms.
(Blogged by Rachel Tobias)