Pharyngula

Lawyers: here’s a profitable target

What organization rakes in the cash by exploiting the poor and making extravagant claims that never come true? What business is built entirely on mass marketing and dishonest advertising, and yet is never called into account for its failure? It isn’t the tobacco companies or the makers of penis enlargement drugs — it’s religion.

I have no idea whether this is a brilliant idea or just the daydream of an ambulance-chasing shyster, but someone is pursuing Earths Greatest Lawsuit — an effort to gather a swarm of plaintiffs to slam various religious organizations with numerous lawsuits.

It’s an interesting idea. I’m not a fan of the sue-them-into-compliance strategy for social issues myself (I want people to change their ideas, not bankrupt them and make them powerless), but I do like the idea of making religious organizations accountable for their real-world claims.

Besides, God is a ripe fruit ready for plucking — everyone knows the Devil has all the lawyers.

Comments

  1. #1 Moggie
    February 25, 2008

    Riiight. Did you go to the page which allows you to register as a plaintiff? You get to choose which religion you wish to claim against: and their list includes ‘atheism’, ‘agnosticism’ and ‘humanism’.

  2. #2 Moses
    February 25, 2008

    their list includes ‘atheism’, ‘agnosticism’ and ‘humanism’.

    Non-religion isn’t religion. They’ll need some luck there.

  3. #3 speedwell
    February 25, 2008

    It’s perfectly possible for some sort of cult to form under the guise of atheist, agnostic, or humanist ideals. Some would argue that the Objectivists who follow Peikoff are such a group. They do solicit funds, demand ideological purity or ejection from the ranks of the favored, in effect worship their founder (Ayn Rand), and so forth. There are other Objectivists who are not dogmatic and aren’t a cult, which just points up the contrast.

  4. #4 Mike
    February 25, 2008

    Wow… That sounds like a great idea for a movie!

  5. #5 A Lurker
    February 25, 2008

    Ben Bova had a science fiction story published in the May 1995 issue of Science Fiction Age and collected in Sam Gunn Forever which (relying on 12-year old memory) had a lawsuit over “Acts of God”. The idea is that stuff declared to be a acts of God was by definition God’s fault. Since the Vatican claimed to be God’s representatives, they got the suit. It was also set in the future with some differences in the legal code since any suit like that would get tosses in any court on the planet today. Some Moslems got a mad over it even though they were not named in the story as well.

  6. #6 Kilgore Trout
    February 25, 2008

    I would be concerned about the backlash. I fear there would be many moderate religious folks who used to think nothing at all about non-religious people, most people are indifferent to almost every issue, if they suddenly found their old church going under because some atheist sued them, suddenly we might have a few more fundamentalists to deal with. I’m not sure what the right way to fight them is, but I don’t think we can fight them with force.

    Personally I prefer laughter. When someone tells me about their religion I just giggle a bit. I then fain an apology for laughing then point out how their beliefs are kinda silly and walk away. I don’t wish to convert anyone, I just wish to pour a little water on the seed of doubt that lies within.

  7. #7 Tosser
    February 25, 2008

    At first the description of this effort talks about things like “faith seeds,” which I seriously doubt could ever be treated as real legal commitments. But then this is mentioned:

    Do you believe that religious groups should lose their tax exemptions as “charitable”, unless they can prove that +80% of their income is spent on real charity? Should they be required to make full, independently audited financial disclosure to the public?

    Now here is a legal project worth considering: using legal mechanisms to end the charade of letting religions pass off religious activities as being charitable, thus earning them tax exempt status.

  8. #8 Ben
    February 25, 2008

    That’s a good point about the taxes – if we’re going to go the legal route, that’s definitely the way to do it. Of course, we can’t just go to congress and politely ask them to start taxing churches…

    A possible strategy (/pipe dream): first, somehow get congress to open the definition of “church” wide enough that all sorts of groups can start claiming tax-exempt status left and right. As soon as that gets out of hand and the govt coffers start hurting, THEN we get someone up on the senate floor to argue that “payin’ taxes is our patriotic duty as churchgoers..blah blah jesus, blah theocracy blah” – make them think that taxing churches is their own idea – and then maybe the measure will pass. Just a thought/dream.

  9. #9 Richard Harris
    February 25, 2008

    Things were getting distinctly run-down in Heaven; the infrastructure was in urgent need of redesign to cope with the burgeoning population. So God thought he should chase up St Peter on their engineers’ retention & recruitment scheme. At their next breakfast meeting, however, St Peter told God that no engineers had arrived at the Pearly Gates for months.

    God knew who was responsible, & immediately He ‘phoned Satan. “Now look here”, said God, “This isn’t good enough. What’s going on?”

    “I didn’t think you’d mind,” said Satan, sardonically. “You’ve got it good up there, but what about me? You can’t blame me for taking in a few engineers, can you? There’s so much that needs doing here. I’ve just had one design a bridge over the sulphur lake. Another’s designed an air conditioning system for my quarters. And we got another to design a range of medical prostheses for the inmates after they…. er, well, we won’t go into that over breakfast. Anyway, the list of innovations & improvements that they’ve designed is endless!”

    “This isn’t good enough,” roared God. “If you don’t send the engineers up to the Pearly Gates immediately, you’ll suffer my wrath!”

    “Oh yeah!” laughed Satan, “and what’re you gonna do about it, then?”

    “I’ll sue!”, screamed God.

    “Don’t make me laugh”, sneered Satan, “where are YOU gonna find a lawyer?”

  10. #10 bill r
    February 25, 2008

    Its been done, by Nebraska’s own Ernie Chambers. He went direct to the source and sued God, who apparently responded but didn’t leave any contact information.

  11. #11 maxi
    February 25, 2008

    Ditto in India

  12. #12 Kamikaze189
    February 25, 2008

    Those of you who are talking about suing god: that is something else entirely. Suing liars and thieves who work in the -name of god- is the objective, here, it seems.

    The only issue I could see is that there could be backlash, as Kilgore has mentioned. But, for the record, I’d do it anyway.

  13. #13 Aaron
    February 25, 2008

    Someone go after Ken Ham!!!!

    Surely all the stuff they’re pawning off as “facts” and “truths” can be held accountable in the courts and debunked proper!

    I read somewhere that Ken Ham keeps a bizarre array of potbellied pigs near his house… is that true? Why would he do that?

  14. #14 Norman Doering
    February 25, 2008

    Kamikaze189 wrote:

    Suing liars and thieves who work in the -name of god- is the objective, here, it seems.

    For example, one of those faith healers James Randi wrote about where someone stops taking important medication because they think they’re cured. The surviving family should sue.

  15. #15 Norman Doering
    February 25, 2008

    Aaron wrote:

    Someone go after Ken Ham!

    How? What exactly would you sue him for? What damages do you want to collect on. I happen to think people like Ham do a lot of economic damage:
    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2008/02/religion-as-force-for-ignorance-and.html

    But how do you sue over it?

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 25, 2008

    I just wish it would work over here – small fines and a tendency to throw such “complaints” out of court. But if it succeeds anywhere it would lower the bar for a reasonable discussion.

    using legal mechanisms to end the charade of letting religions pass off religious activities as being charitable, thus earning them tax exempt status.

    Another thing that probably wouldn’t work here. AFAIU organizations with at least somewhat beneficial agenda, if so only to make social meetings possible, get tax reductions.

    I’m not a fan of the sue-them-into-compliance strategy for social issues

    AFAIU there are both pros and cons with the alternative.

    Pros – some annoyances are better suppressed (but I’m pretty sure that an US citizen have other annoyances instead).

    Cons – the lawyers.

  17. #17 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 25, 2008

    I just wish it would work over here – small fines and a tendency to throw such “complaints” out of court. But if it succeeds anywhere it would lower the bar for a reasonable discussion.

    using legal mechanisms to end the charade of letting religions pass off religious activities as being charitable, thus earning them tax exempt status.

    Another thing that probably wouldn’t work here. AFAIU organizations with at least somewhat beneficial agenda, if so only to make social meetings possible, get tax reductions.

    I’m not a fan of the sue-them-into-compliance strategy for social issues

    AFAIU there are both pros and cons with the alternative.

    Pros – some annoyances are better suppressed (but I’m pretty sure that an US citizen have other annoyances instead).

    Cons – the lawyers.

  18. #18 Theo Bromine
    February 25, 2008

    IANAL, I’m an engineer. However, I vaguely recall a Canadian lawsuit some years ago in which the government was sued for breach of contract for not keeping their campaign promises, and the court ruled that politicians’ campaign promises were not to be considered contractual obligations, rather they were to be judged as advertising claims. I wonder where religious claims fall along that spectrum

  19. #19 wonderer
    February 25, 2008

    Posted by: Theo Bromine

    …campaign promises were not to be considered contractual obligations, rather they were to be judged as advertising claims.

    Perhaps it would not be a bad thing for religious claims to be publically portrayed as advertising claims, along with some educational material on the effectiveness of marketing in manipulating people to do things against their own interests.

  20. #20 raven
    February 25, 2008

    You can’t just sue religions for being religions. This is just a pipedream for laughs.

    You can sue them for various real torts they have done in the real world. Landover Baptist, that inbred bunch of Fred Phelps is bankrupt. After they disrupted the funeral of an Iraqi war soldier, his family sued them for pain and suffereing etc..They won an 11 million USD judgement.

    Winning a suit and collecting are two different things. But any real property Landover and Phelps has is potentially seizable and auctionable. Phelps has to do a Hovind, hide the assets and hope no lawyers or accountants find them.

    Needless to say, no one feels sorry for the clan.

  21. #21 kraft
    February 25, 2008

    I think suing god directly makes the most sense. After all, he’s directed his followers to put on this ID nonsense, and so it strikes me as a little unfair to sue someone for following orders from above, kind of like how soldiers who participate in war crimes are let off if it is clear that they were just following orders. Maybe some of us could “pretend pray” or something, and once the big man shows up, we’ll tell him jokes over, your ass is served! See you in court, motherfucker!

  22. #22 speedwell
    February 25, 2008

    where someone stops taking important medication because they think they’re cured. The surviving family should sue.

    I signed up against my mother’s pastor and her “friends” from the women’s group at the church for convincing Mom that she would be on the outs with God if she accepted conventional medical treatment for what was at that time early-stage breast cancer. Many prayer meetings and lots of hurting later, my grandmother and I finally convinced her to go see an oncologist. By then it was too late to cure her. Her pastor and her “friends” interfered with her and made her do stupid things like not show up for chemo and radiation, and pushed “natural” remedies on her. Her bedroom was a fricking Noni juice and Essiac warehouse. All along she prayed for “her miracle,” and when she didn’t get it, died in physical and mental agony, believing she was being sent to Hell for failing to raise her children properly.

  23. #23 Forrest Prince
    February 25, 2008

    There’s that “free exercise” clause in the US Constitution 1st Amendment that would seem to allow people to wittingly give money to religious charlatans and simultaneously allow the charlatans to legally keep it. If my “free exercise” of religion includes allowing me to become a member of a church or religion of any sort (and it necessarily must), and that membership either implies donations or requires dues, fees, tithes, or any sort of monetary payment, then it seems the charlatans enjoy Constitutional indemnity against any such efforts as “Earth’s Greatest Lawsuit” may put forth.

    EGL is also constitutionally protected by 1st Amendment provisions for free speech, I should think, whatever one might think of them otherwise.

    If we sincerely wish to confront and abate the harmful consequences of belief in superstition and the supernatural, which virtually all religions promote to one extent or another, our best tool remains patient promotion of rational thought and deed. Lawsuits come and go, and are won and lost on both sides. Rational thought and deed is a winner every time, even though it may not look like it right away.

  24. #24 Sergeant Zim
    February 25, 2008

    Ummm, Raven, I think you’ve got a bit of confusion going…

    Landover Baptist is a parody site, poking fun at fundies.

    Westboro Baptist is Phred Phelps’ site.

    Although, in all honesty, it’s very difficult to tell the difference most of the time.

  25. #25 Ross
    February 25, 2008

    Raven,

    Landover Baptist is a satire on Phelps’s Westboro Baptist chruch.

    Don’t sue the satirists!

  26. #26 raven
    February 25, 2008

    where someone stops taking important medication because they think they’re cured. The surviving family should sue.

    Saw a similar case. Woman in high risk group on routine screening, caught a very early stage tumor. At this point the cure rate is over 90%.

    She went the alternative quack route. Some of the stuff she was taking was just bizarre weird nonsense. A year + later, she was dead, age 34.

    This probably wasn’t a Xian faith healer influence, more new age beliefs. Not unusual and not the only time this sort of thing happened.

  27. #27 raven
    February 25, 2008

    Landover Baptist is a satire on Phelps’s Westboro Baptist chruch.

    Oopppsss. So many kooks, so little time.

    Yes, it was Westboro and they did lose a big civil lawsuit for 11 million bucks.

  28. #28 Mason Pierce
    February 25, 2008

    Myth: The claims of religion are unverifiable.
    Myth: None of the verifiable claims have “come true”.

    I hereby present verifiable proof of all the claims of religion. I am currently in heaven. I am surrounded by beautiful virgins. There are clouds, and everyone is dressed casually.

    “But Mason Pierce, how can you be online while you’re in heaven?”

    That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard. Of course heaven has the internet. It’s the fastest internet in the world.

    “How do we know you’re really in heaven?”

    Because how else could I tell you what Jesus Christ is saying right now? (by the way he’s not saying anything)

  29. #29 Deon
    February 25, 2008

    You people are idiots. Religion has god on its side. You’d do better to try to sue a fascist dictator while being one of his citizens. No, we need something cleverer, more subversive, which god won’t pick up on, not until it’s too late… Maybe a negative campaign conducted in underground publications, or secret meetings whose purported purpose is “worship” but actual purpose is engineering the downfall of god. I’ll get my knickers.

  30. #30 speedwell
    February 25, 2008

    Mason, there’s only one problem with your “I’m in heaven” scheme. If you’re in heaven, you cannot solicit contributions from followers because you have no need of money. Or, by definition, anything else.

  31. #31 Mason Pierce
    February 25, 2008

    Wow speedwell, you certainly know a lot for someone who’s supposedly not in heaven. How would you know that unless you were … IN HEAVEN?

    Oh snap! I’m gonna totally facebook you!

  32. #32 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    Richard Harris, lawyers and their “helping” profession have fully grasped your punch line and exploited the heaven frame too.

    Lawyers create their own reality – and your reality too.

    Heaven itself is a lucrative frame, as the medieval lawyerly indulgence sellers knew.

    “You don’t want your poor suffering grandmother to spend eternity in PURGATORY DO YOU?”

    “ONLY WE LAWYER/PRIESTS HAVE THE ESOTERIC KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS (the monopoly) TO MAGICALLY PLUCK YOUR GRANNY OUT OF PURGATORY.”

    WHERE’S THE MONEY?

    Lawyering was first to champion framing as an axiom of their elitist trade in human suffering, conflict, injury, & death itself.

    The lawyering FRAME.
    “Have you been injured? Let us help you!”

    If we can’t help you, you can’t be helped. Hey, there is only ONE law game in town.

    Why lawyers can even frame themselves as devout Christians and waltz into heaven where they sucker more clients with something worth stealing.

    Attorneys’ fees are the answer to the framing device.

    Now, lawyers can help wronged atheists with cash – and wronged believers with cash.

    “We’ll even take your case on contingency,” if you are suing the wealthy Cathlicks or Christian Scientists.

    Even Goddamn atheists are entitled to a good dose of God’s LAW.

    Could God herself be a lawyer?

  33. #33 Nary Waverly
    February 25, 2008

    gerald:

    * indulgences are real
    * God is a man

    don’t spread shit when you don’t know shit yourself

  34. #34 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    Deon, with slick framing all things are possible including fooling God – with or without knickers and panties.

    Here is THE new frame;
    Fooling omniscient God through framing.

    Framing everything is the final omniscience since God was originally framed.

    Deneyse O’leary, of couse, is “framing FOR God.”

    If the data don’t fit, you must acquit God.

    Like the framing professor says, “All things are wrought through the framing God – even God.”

  35. #35 Glen Frundy
    February 25, 2008

    Even though the whole Lazarus thing happened a long time ago, I think that *bringing a brother back to life* might grant religion immunity for a few thousand years, and so it’s pretty naive to think you could ever win against it in a courtroom.

  36. #36 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    Nary, 1. If God is a man, who was his MUM, and where are his sistahhs?

    2. If there is no counterfeit, what, in the name of sweet baby Jesus, is real gold.?

  37. #37 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    The only people who can “win indulgences and get money for it” are the lawyers and robed lawyer/judges who preen about the public courthouse as the priesthood of the private legal monopoly.

    You can always tell a lady lawyer by her impeccable pants suit (ie Hilarious), but you can’t tell her much.

    Indulgences are real alright – for a price.

  38. #38 Nary Waverly
    February 25, 2008

    I’m just saying, it’s a common misperception that when people bought indulgences from the church, there was no divine act connected with it, specifically erasing sins of yourself/others. And I don’t know where the idea that God is woman came from, that’s just … bizarre.

  39. #39 MAJeff
    February 25, 2008

    I see gerry is trying to play with his brain again. So sad.

  40. #40 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    1.Ditto, the Indulgences frame “is” a scam.

    2.God the mother … about as bizarre and/or reasonable … as God-the-father, eh?

    Or god-the-lady-cephelopod-god?

  41. #41 Sonja
    February 25, 2008

    What organization rakes in the cash by exploiting the poor and making extravagant claims that never come true? What business is built entirely on mass marketing and dishonest advertising, and yet is never called into account for its failure?

    I thought you were going to say the US Military under George Bush.

  42. #42 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    Yabut, in Bahston they say, “Lawd gawd – a lady gawd.”

    Some crude academic types accuse unbelievers in the insidious framing devices of the not so ubiquitous Islamofascist lobby of actually and/or metaphorically f***ing the Muthah Gawd.

  43. #43 MAJeff
    February 25, 2008

    oh gerry, we understand you’ve moved from fucking mothers to fucking pigs. And we don’t judge you for it. We judge you for your mindless idiocy.

  44. #44 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    Sonja, if it weren’t for the filthy Islamofascist terrorists refusing to be exterminated by our VALUES & smart tech, then we wouldn’t have to frame, lie, & distort their murders so goddamn much – which is not only expensive but soooo sinful.

    Why do the dirty Islamo bastards conceal themselves and refuse to get their comeuppance and death for their horrendous and filthy Islamic beliefs & STUPID VALUES?

    Mericans help people who have been injured by the wrong religion and clearly don’t have the right VALUES.

  45. #45 negentropyeater
    February 25, 2008

    Nice on mike #4,

    did you notice that the man who sued God in that movie (who later became fisherman out of frustration) was also named….
    MYERS

    Ok it was Steve MYERS (played by Billy Connolly, but that’s quite a coïncidence (didn’t PZ also mention something about his fishing skills ??) And isn’t there a hint of resemblance between Billy and PZ ?

  46. #46 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    Crude assertions create reality?

    Who needs content?

    MAJeff is really Karl Rove on a framing binge?

    We are dealing with a brain damaged sociologist – a veritable practitioner of withch-craft, also known as the “social construction of realty.”

    Assertions do not a flying sex bomb of a sow create.

  47. #47 MAJeff
    February 25, 2008

    What’s so fucking hilarious, gerry, is that you’re too fucking stupid to realize that I use that language in order to make fun of you and your precious sensibilities. My god, you are a prig.

    Not only that, you’re so ridiculous. It’s hilarious when you try to wax rhetorical because you merely demonstrate your incompetence.

    Damn, you a fool, boy!

  48. #48 MAJeff
    February 25, 2008

    gerry, you remind me of the mentally ill man who hangs around Powderhouse Square in Somerville, babbling at anyone who will listen about “St. Theresa, God, The Peach Tree, and Saddam Hussein.”

    You are exactly that incomprehensible. I often have to tell him to leave me alone so I can be on my way. Please, shut the fuck up. You have nothing to say, and you’ve demonstrated that over and over and over and over.

  49. #49 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    Since you say: “I OFTEN have to tell him to leave me alone so I can be on my way.”

    Ahhh my dear, you clearly keep returning to the offensive location for some continuing titillation, hey?

    If he finds out that you are a social constructor, he may be so frightened that he will run in terror when you appear – and that would really piissss your prissy off.
    More titillation, maybe?

    Have you considered suing the beast for lurking, or switching to law school.

    Doan you worry none, sociologist social constructors will save us.

  50. #50 Peter Moss
    February 25, 2008

    MJff: Whl dn’t sd wth grld, fnd tht yr cmmnts thrw sm lght n th rcst fg sht-tng btch bhnd th kybrd wh s typng thm. t’s ppl lk y wh psh psd-scnc D nnsns nt r pblc schl crrcl. Gt t strght:

    1. y’r fg
    2. d s jst crtnsm rlbld
    3. g t sht wth yr nsty sstr

  51. #51 MAJeff
    February 25, 2008

    1. you’re a fag

    Why yes, yes I am. The problem?

  52. #52 Brian X
    February 25, 2008

    You know, while I like the idea of a mass suing of the Elmer Gantries of the world, the page starts to smell like tinfoil as I read it. At least the Rational Response Squad, as amateurish as they are, aren’t slightly nuts.

  53. #53 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 25, 2008

    New data (!) hints that US citizens “are ready, willing and able to change their religious affiliation” and do so often.

    So instead of suing religions, one could let the politicians loose to tax churches for their members changes of affiliation. (Blaming, as always, “administrative costs”.) That would put a damper on.

    Btw, I note that “unaffiliated” (roughly: non-religious) people sum up to ~ 16 %. That is the fourth largest group, comparable to any of the other large ones. With a little political clout it could work wonders!

  54. #54 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    February 25, 2008

    New data (!) hints that US citizens “are ready, willing and able to change their religious affiliation” and do so often.

    So instead of suing religions, one could let the politicians loose to tax churches for their members changes of affiliation. (Blaming, as always, “administrative costs”.) That would put a damper on.

    Btw, I note that “unaffiliated” (roughly: non-religious) people sum up to ~ 16 %. That is the fourth largest group, comparable to any of the other large ones. With a little political clout it could work wonders!

  55. #55 pedlar
    February 25, 2008

    Ah thanks PZ, for taking out the trash. There was a real bad smell in here… .

    Going back to a very early comment …

    Do you believe that religious groups should lose their tax exemptions… ?

    Instinctive reaction: hell, yeah.

    But many people too easily miss the point here. Think back to the founding of the US. The War of Independence. The rallying cry:

    No taxation without representation.

    Those founding fathers were smart guys. They followed the logic. Which is: if you’re taxed you have a right to a voice in government. If you’re not taxed you have no right, and no voice.

    The churches aren’t taxed. Are you sure you want to change that?

  56. #56 Josh
    February 25, 2008

    If you need a reason not to take this seriously, read the WHERE’S BLUE? page. It’s a conspiracy theory about why the Catholic Church doesn’t use blue even though the Bible commands it (because the Church is the Whore of Babylon, of course).

  57. #57 Graculus
    February 25, 2008

    What damages do you want to collect on.

    Pain and suffering. My brain hurts after listening to them.

  58. #58 KenG
    February 25, 2008

    On a lighter note, there is a Billy Connolly movie “The Man who sued God” in which the plot has Billy as a fisherman whose boat gets struck by lightning and destroyed. The insurance company refuses to pay because it is classed as “an act of God”.

    Billy has no option therefore but to sue God to recover his livelihood. The movie had loads of potential to expose the ridiculousness of religion but ended fairly lamely if I recall.

  59. #59 Lowell
    February 25, 2008

    There are legal ethics issues, too.

    Filing a lawsuit as part of a “mass filing” designed to “flood them all, with literally millions of claims,” as the “Strategy” page states, is probably not a good idea.

    It’s not hard to imagine a court or an attorney registration and disciplinary committee sanctioning an attorney for that.

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