Nel's New Day

May 3, 2015

‘Religious Freedom’ Opens Doors to the Secular

Open a drawer in a hotel room, and you’ll most likely find a bible. Maybe not a telephone book, but a bible distributed by an association called Gideons International. Representatives from the organization have been putting the books across the country for over a century. During World War II, they also gave a copy to each person in the U.S. Armed Forces. After the war, abridged bibles went to all public and private school students between the fifth and twelfth grades after Gideons spoke to assemblies at the schools. The first three years of the program saw 4.2 million copies into the hands of students with a plan to give out a total of 25 million. Many communities required Christian prayers and/or Bible readings in the classrooms.

Original objections came from Jewish leaders opposing the distribution of the New Testament, and Catholic officials fought the Gideon Bible in classrooms because canon law forbids use of the King James Version. Liberal Protestants disapproved, and the editors of the Christian Century claimed that public schools are “not the place” to evangelize because of the Christians have “a duty to respect separation of church and state in relation to the schools.” Complaints led to lawsuits, and the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in 1953 that one school board had clearly favored one religious faith.

Stunned by the decision, the Gideons believed that “Satan has been and still is vigorously opposed to this particular program.” Their appeal to the Supreme Court, however, failed, and the Gideons decided that they were better off without a federal ruling limited to only New Jersey and returned to the other 47 states. Pennsylvania ruled against their actions while Minnesota accepted the bibles in public schools. By the late 1950s, about 43 percent of school districts allowed the bible distribution program, a majority of these in small towns and the areas of the South and the Midwest.  Starting with the 1947 ruling against the Gideons, the Supreme Court has ruled five times against these distributions, but the bibles kept going into the classrooms, in Kentucky as recent as last year.

In the center of the country, Oklahoma has found itself in the center of a firestorm after Attorney General Scott Pruitt passionately defended the right of conservative Christians to proselytize public school students by handing out religious materials. When the American Humanist Association threatened a lawsuit, Duncan Public School District ended a teacher’s distribution of bibles in the classroom. “Few things are as sacred and as fundamental to Oklahomans as the constitutional rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion,” Pruitt wrote. He continued with the tired meme about the attack on religious freedoms by people “who seek to undermine our constitutional rights and threaten our founding principles.”

The Oklahoma Constitution states:

“Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of the State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; and no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.”

One religious group believes the words of the state constitution and attorney general. Satanist Church of Ahriman leader, Adam Daniels, has requested permission to distribute its church handbook to students at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School where the third grade teacher handed out bibles to her students. Daniels told school officials that his church’s handbook is much less “graphic” than the Christian bible. Last year, Satanists received the right to distribute its materials at a Florida school just before the school banned the distribution of all religious materials.

The current demand for “religious freedom” can help improve the country in these areas of need:

Homeless People: In Texas, Joan Cheever is fighting a $2,000 fine in San Antonio for violating the city ordinance against feeding homeless people, using her religious faith as a reason.

Undocumented Immigrants: Leviticus 19:33-34 –  “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.” People who provide undocumented people with housing or jobs shouldn’t be charged with a felony if the follow their religious compassion.

Using Marijuana: The original Religious Freedom Restoration Act came from a lawsuit about a Native American’s use of peyote; the Indiana secretary of state has already approved a petition from the First Church of Cannabis Inc. to grow hemp. The use of marijuana can be a religious ritual.

Overfishing: Because the Bible calls shellfish an abomination, vegans and vegetarians might legally block piers and free lobsters from traps.

Climate Change: Members of the GOP have already declared that the belief in human-created climate change is a “religion,” an issue of “faith.” Throughout the Old Testment verses require people to be good stewards of the land. For example, Numbers 35.33-34: “Do not pollute the land where you are…  Do not defile the land where you live and where I [God] dwell.”

Pope Francis clearly understands the importance of being good stewards of the land, and the Koch brothers are unhappy about his position. Their Heartland Institute is sending right-wing “scientists” to tell the pope why he is wrong, both scientifically and biblically, especially after he announced he plans to meet with the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, and other experts to discuss what policymakers and religious leaders can do to better combat the worst effects of climate change. The Koch brothers will attempt to persuade the pope that “there is no need for a radical reordering of global economies that will cause massive reductions in human freedom and prosperity.” In addition, the right-wingers allege that the pope is being “misled” by experts at the United Nations who have “proven unworthy.” Heartland insists that humans are using the land for biblical purposes—the benefit of humanity.

The pope will frustrate the Koch brothers with another position on social issues—equal pay. He called on Christians to demand equality in gender wages. “Why is it expected that women must earn less than men?” he asked. “No! They have the same rights. The disparity is a pure scandal.” The pope explained that his position doesn’t come from attempts to advance women’s rights but said that the higher wages for men is “a form of chauvinism that always wants to control the woman.” Christians should “decisively support the right to equal pay for equal work.”

After two years of being pope, Francis took an important step when he ended the Church’s investigation and control of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a move instituted by Francis’s predecessor, Benedict. The organization that represents about 80 percent of Catholic nuns in the United States had been censored because they paid more attention to helping the poor and homeless than pontificating against abortion and marriage equality. A report states that the “implementation of the mandate has been accomplished.” Catholic Church doctrine still prevents women in the Church from birth control use, but the nuns can return to their good works without punitive measures.

While the pope calls for more freedom, the U.S. Catholic Church is trying to be more restrictive. Like Cincinnati, the Catholic Diocese in Cleveland (OH) has established an “expanded” list of offenses and reclassified teachers as “ministers.” At the five Catholic schools in the city, teachers can be fired if they don’t adhere to the new morality clause with such forbidden behaviors as “[p]ublicly supporting abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, surrogate parenthood, direct sterilization, or so-called homosexual or same-sex marriage or unions.” Other prohibited behaviors on the list are having or helping someone obtain an abortion, any extramarital sex or living with a partner without being legally married, “lewd or sexually suggestive” emails or texts, pornography use or unlawful drug use.

The leadership’s excuse is that “each and every teacher and administrator in a Catholic school, whether they teach religion as a subject or not, is called by the Church to model Jesus.” The new “ministers” might raise the question of biblical references to “surrogate parenthood” and “direct sterilization.” In fact, they should raise the question of how they are actually “ministers” with no personal life outside their employment. Could this requirement be extended to medical practitioners or even everyone who cleans Catholic hospitals and schools? Is a cafeteria worker at a Catholic building a “minister” by providing nourishment?

Anyone finding these questions ridiculous needs only to remember that a for-profit company of craft items now has “religious liberties” and can make opinions for people based on “faith” and not science. Will “religious companies” have the right to control the personal life of all their employers?

Brian-Klawiter-Dieseltec-638x425A recent example of a “religious business” is the auto repair shop in Grandville (MI) where Brian Klawiter bragged on his Facebook page that he wouldn’t repair cars for LGBT people. In fact, if they ask for his services, he might “fix” a car so that it could kill the driver. Although his behavior is legal in Michigan, he’s having trouble getting a city business license because he won’t accept the city ordinance stating that the city has “authority to enter (licensed businesses), with or without search warrant, at all reasonable times.” He wants to be exempted because he thinks the licensing process is a violation of his constitutional rights.

Perception of these constitutional rights differ from one person to another. Tom DeLay, former House Majority Leader, recently said—again—that God wrote the Constitution after he created the nation.  “I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government,” DeLay explained. That takes rights from everyone except conservative Christians—maybe even the pope.

December 20, 2011

Conservatives Fraudulently Disenfranchise Voters

The minute that the Republicans took over a majority of the states in this country, they laid the groundwork to keep a Democrat president from being elected through constrictive laws demanding photo IDS and gerrymandering the House districts. Other laws shorten early voting period, ban in-person early voting on Sundays, and prohibit boards of election from mailing absentee ballot requests to voters. Two other states have disenfranchised criminals who have paid their time and are now contributing members of society. All this is in the name of voter fraud. In 38 states.

These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters as well as on voters with disabilities, sharply tilting the election results in the coming year. The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2011—63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

Not having photo IDs has already been a problem for voters. After Indiana passed its law in 2008, a group of retired nuns who had always voted were turned away from the primary election because they lacked proper photo identification.

Getting a photo ID will be either expensive and/or impossible for up to 5 million U.S. citizens who have voted in past elections. An example is the Wisconsin law that requires photo ID from anyone who goes to the polls to vote. Although the state ostensibly offers a “free” photo ID to its residents, a birth certificate is necessary in order to obtain it. Copies of birth certificates cost at least $20—if it’s available.

Ruthelle Frank, an 84-year-old Wisconsin woman who, because of a difficult home birth, doesn’t have an official birth certificate now must pay as much as $200 to get one simply to satisfy the “free” photo ID requirements. To get a birth certificate, she has to have a photo ID. In Tennessee, 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper was refused a voter ID because she didn’t have her marriage certificate.

Republicans virtuously claim voter fraud as the reason for demanding photo IDs. A friend pointed out that Indiana recently discovered this problem, but the case she referenced was someone possibly falsifying names in a petition to put Barack Obama on the ballot for the presidential candidate in 2008. It wasn’t voter fraud.

To support the suspicion of fraud, the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) searched for all the cases of voter fraud that have been prosecuted over the last decade. They found 311 cases. That’s an average of 31 cases annually out of a vast number of people who voted—131 million in 2008, for example.

Examining the RNLA’s report showed a bit of “fraud” in the results. RNLA citations actually went back to 1997. It claimed fraud in 46 states but cited only 44 states. For two of those 44 states there were no examples since 2000. That lists only 42 states in the past decade, indicating no fraud in the other eight states. After the claim that Florida had at least 17 cases involving prosecutions for non-citizen voting in 2005, RNLA failed to follow up with the information that at least four of those cases were dismissed. And these are Republicans looking for fraud!

The Justice Department shows 86 proven cases over the past decade. That’s 8.6 a years, resulting in punitive laws from almost half the states in the country. In Wisconsin, seven of the approximately 3 million votes cast in 2004 were deemed invalid–all from felons who were unaware of their ineligibility. Comedian Stephen Colbert recently mocked the need for photo ID laws, noting that fraud occurs in “a jaw dropping 44 one-millionths of one percent” of votes.

Paul Schurick, an aide to former Maryland Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has been convicted of attempted voter suppression—which may come under the auspices of voter fraud. During the 2006 gubernatorial election, Schurick tried to use robocalls to suppress the black vote. Calls to 112,000 voters in Baltimore and Prince George’s County on Election Day before polls had closed in Baltimore and Prince George’s County told African American residents to “relax” because Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had already won the race. Schurick became Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign manager in the 2010 race and had been his communications director for the four years that he was governor.

Wisconsin also has a record of one particular county clerk magically “discovering” ballots in her computer a few days after a less-than-conservative candidate loses. She is the only person with access to that computer.

The Constitution has only two requirements in the redistricting every ten years after the census to allocate House representatives: roughly equal populations and no discrimination against minority voters. Ohio is an example of how Republicans in the majority party are making sure that the state will send mostly Republicans to the House—and incidentally vote for a Republican president. State legislators drew up new maps that favor Republicans in 12 of Ohio’s congressional districts, strengthening the majority of likely Republican supporters in at least 17 house districts. The president of the state senate, Republican Thomas Niehaus, wrote in an e-mail, “I am still committed to ending up with a map that Speaker Boehner fully supports,” even though, as a spokesman said in November, Boehnner “has no official role in the redistricting process.”

Redistricting is expensive because it requires voter data and mapping consultants. It also requires lobbyists to influence state legislators, who are in charge of redistricting in most states, for people like the Koch brothers who want to own theUnited States. Mysterious groups influencing redistricting are cropping up in a number of states such as Minnesota. These groups don’t have to divulge their financing from far-right funders.

Ironically, voting is not a constitutional right; states can keep people from voting if they wish. The restrictions just cannot be by race, color, or previous condition of servitude (thanks to the Fourteenth Amendment); gender (thanks to the Twentieth Amendment); or by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax (thanks to the Twenty-Fourth Amendment). These restrictions were removed in 1868 (Amendment 15); 1920 (Amendment 20); and 1964 (Amendment 24). For over 50 years, the Constitution was even able to require that voters be male, as specified in the Fourteenth Amendment.

So what the states are doing to remove voting rights from their citizens?

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder got his state legislature to give him the right to appoint “emergency managers” for any municipality and void the right of the people there to elect their officials. Ostensibly to cure the fiscal problems of whatever place he takes over. The four “emergency managers” who he has already appointed to Michigan cities may be joined by Detroit. If he succeeds in doing this, half the African-American residents of Michigan will no longer be able to elect their city officials. They will have no say in what happens to the places where they live.

Everyday Republicans who aren’t elected officials are working hard to remove the rights of voters. In Wisconsin, where opponents of Gov. Scott Walker are trying to gather enough signatures to impeach him, supporters have been caught on video jumping out of trucks to threaten circulators, even defacing or ripping up petitions. One Milwaukee man admitted he had signed recall petitions approximately 80 times. Walker supporters also posted a website saying that people could quit signing the petitions because there are enough signatures. There aren’t.

Another way that states cut down on voter involvement is to send out postcards. People who don’t return them are then questioned at the polls about whether they are qualified to vote. Ohio and Michigan were taken to court over this practice during the past decade. Other lists to possibly disqualify voters were created from people whose homes were foreclosed.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler ordered Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz to not send ballots to soldiers out of state who are legally registered Pueblo County voters but who failed to cast ballots in 2010. No notification—just no ballot.

Other tactics are reflected by Mike Huckabee, former Republican presidential candidate, in his joke about making sure that Ohio’s anti-union law passes in the state’s most recently election. Encouraging supporters to call friends and ask if they’re voting for Issue 2, he joked, “If they say no, well, you just make sure that they don’t go vote. Let the air out of their tires on election day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date,” he said. “That’s up to you how you creatively get the job done.”

Debating the laws in state legislatures demonstrates the rationale for the laws and the attitude that some legislators have toward some of their constituents. New Hampshire’s new Republican state House speaker, William O’Brien, described college students as “foolish.”  “Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added. They lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.

Tennessee Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, wondered how “all these people” are able to buy beer and cigarettes without driver’s licenses. “Tell me how people are buying beer and cigarettes? They have to have an ID to do that, a photo ID to do that. I have a hard time believing that all these people don’t have an ID. … You have to have a photo ID to get public housing. You have to have a birth certificate to get public housing. … I think there’s more people with a photo ID than they want to admit.”

Some people are fighting back. Retired Tennessee teacher Lee Campbell and his wife spoke to Congress about their fight for a promised free photo ID under a Republican law demanding ID in order to vote. The DMV tried to charge Campbell $8 for his ID. They are only two, however, of a possible 5 million disenfranchised voters.

In a speech to student activists, Bill Clinton said, “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.”

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have introduced a bill that would impose tough criminal and civil penalties on individuals who make and distribute campaign literature with false information intended to deceive voters and suppress turnout. Let’s see what the Republicans, so concerned about voter fraud, will have to say about this.

There was a time in American history when only white male property owners could vote. Let’s hope that we’re not returning to that era.

November 30, 2011

Senate Removes Constitutional Rights

They actually did it. I didn’t believe they would. And I never thought that I would agree with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). But I’m against it the way he is.

Monday, I wrote about the Senate voting on a bill that would allow the president to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens in prison with no trial. Yesterday they passed that bill. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) wanted an amendment for the bill that would exempt citizens from the “imprison suspected ‘terrorists’ indefinitely with no trial” bill. That amendment failed 60 to 38 after Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) voted against the amendment and then voted for it.

Udall’s amendment called for U.S. military and intelligence officials to study the plan and offer their own blueprint for how to interrogate and detain alleged extremists. It appears that Senators think that they are more qualified to question and detail “terrorists” than the military and intelligence officials.

The U.S. Constitution protects U.S. citizens from being indefinitely imprisoned. Amendment 5 states, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Amendment 6 states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.” If the House of Representatives, overwhelmed by conservatives, passes it and the President signs it, although he’s promised to veto the bill, then citizens have lost more of their constitutional rights.

Fifteen Democrats and one Independent joined all the Republicans except Paul  and Mark Kirk (R-IL) to defeat the amendment that would exempt citizens from indefinite jail time without trial. “It’s not enough just to be alleged to be a terrorist,” Paul said. “That’s part of what due process is–deciding, are you a terrorist? I think it’s important that we not allow U.S. citizens to be taken.” Paul also stated that the new provisions would not have prevented the failures that led to the 9/11 attacks.

Democrats who opposed citizens’ indefinite time in jail without trial compared this bill to the detention of Americans in internment camps during World War II. “Congress is essentially authorizing the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens, without charge,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). She has another amendment, not yet receiving a vote, to correct this problem. “We are not a nation that locks up its citizens without charge.”

“The enemy is all over the world. Here at home. And when people take up arms against the United State sand [are] captured within the United States, why should we not be able to use our military and intelligence community to question that person as to what they know about enemy activity?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said. “They should not be read their Miranda Rights. They should not be given a lawyer,” Graham said.

That’s what they said about Brandon Mayfield, a U.S. citizen in Portland (OR) accused of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings. The FBI secretly broke into his house without probable cause and then held him for two weeks. Eventually an FBI internal review admitted serious errors in their investigation. If this bill is allowed to become law, U.S. citizens like Mayfield could spend their lives in prison.

“It is likely that implementing such procedures would inject significant confusion into counterterrorism operations,” the White House argued in a Nov. 17 statement. Both FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent letters to congressional leaders opposing the bill.

The bill handily passed because it was part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would authorize defense spending on military personnel, weapons, and war. The “send U.S. citizens to prison indefinitely without charges” bill can still be removed when the Senate bill is merged with a similar House bill allocating $690 billion for the Pentagon.

The 15 senators who voted for the “take constitutional rights from U.S. citizens bill” are Bob Casey (PA), Kent Conrad (ND), Kay Hagan (NC), Daniel Inouye (HI), Herb Kohl (WI), Mary Landrieu (LA), Carl Levin (MI), Joe Manchin (WV), Claire McCaskill (MO), Ben Nelson (NE), Mark Pryor (AR), Jack Reed (RI), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (CN) also voted in favor of removing constitutional rights.

Tea Partiers think that the bill does not apply to U.S. citizens. They are wrong. It would (1) explicitly authorize the federal government to indefinitely imprison without charge or trial American citizens and others picked up inside and outside the United States; (2) mandate military detention of some civilians who would otherwise be outside of military control, including civilians picked up within the United States itself; and (3) transfer to the Department of Defense core prosecutorial, investigative, law enforcement, penal, and custodial authority, and responsibility now held by the Department of Justice.

If this bill passes, U.S. citizens have lost the right of habeas corpus from Article 1, Second 9 of the U.S. Constitution that states U.S. citizens cannot be held without their will without just cause. People jailed with no charges can demand these, and the courts must issue a writ of habeas corpus to force those in charge to answer why people are being held. With no good or compelling reason for holding them, these people must be set free. This is the sole liberty considered important enough to be in the original text of the U.S. Constitution.

According to legal experts, the wording of the new National Defense Authorization Act effectively repeals the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385), which limits the use of federal military personnel to enforce laws within the United States.  The Act allows for the imposition of martial law only where specifically authorized by the United States Constitution (invasion, insurrection, etc.) or Act of Congress.  Under the provisions of the unamended NDAA, the president will have the power to impose martial law, and thereby suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus, on his own authority.

More than ten years 19 men, 15 of them from Saudi Arabia, attacked the World Trade Center. Many people are still believe that this was an “act of war” on the United States. No country declared war on the U.S., but a conservative government used this tragedy to destroy millions of lives and the culture of other countries through violent acts that brought down revenge on our country.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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