Nel's New Day

February 12, 2017

People Use Religion to Disrespect Women’s Rights

Yesterday’s marches against Planned Parenthood again ignored that federal money doesn’t go to abortions whereas the government spends hundreds of billions of dollars to kill people around the world—many of them innocent—and conservatives are determined to kill people through air and water pollution. These pro-life people are willing to kill anyone except what they consider the “unborn” and abuse children after they are born. Yet they use the bible as their justification for a woman’s choice regarding her own body because conservatives believe women aren’t smart enough to make the right choice for themselves.

A few facts from their bible:

God defined a potion for abortion potion: “May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.”—Numbers 5:22-27

God fines the killing of a fetus but puts to death the person killing a woman: “And if men strive together, and hurt a pregnant woman, so that her fruit [children] come out, and yet no harm follows; the one who hit her shall surely be fined, according as the woman’s husband shall impose upon him; and he shall pay a fine as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth ….” —Exodus 21:22-23

God defines a person through the ability to breathe: “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7

The bible’s opinion of women:

A wife is man’s property: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife … or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” —Exodus 20:17

Girl babies are twice as unclean as boys: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days …. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks. —Leviticus 12:1-8

Women should keep silent:  “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.” —1 Cor. 14:34

A raped daughter must be sold to her rapist: ““If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.” —Deut. 22:28-29

Women must cover their hair—like the Muslim hijab: “For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” —I Cor. 11:6

Women should be forced to have children: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”—1 Tim. 2:15

Women make men dirty: “[Those redeemed from the earth] are those who did not defile themselves with women.” —Revelation 14:4

Opinions from revered church leaders:

“Woman is a temple built over a sewer.” –Tertullian, “the father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)

Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. …” –Saint Albertus Magnus, Dominican theologian, 13th century

“[Women’s] very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.”–Saint Clement of Alexandria, Christian theologian (c150-215)

“The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” –Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)

In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. … Woman, you are the gate to hell. –Tertullian, “the father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)

“Even as the church must fear Christ Jesus, so must the wives also fear their husbands. And this inward fear must be shewed by an outward meekness and lowliness in her speeches and carriage to her husband…. For if there be not fear and reverence in the inferior, there can be no sound nor constant honor yielded to the superior.” –John Dod: A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandements, Puritan guidebook first published in 1603

“A wife is to submit graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.” – Official Faith and Message Statement of Southern Baptist Convention, Summer 1998, (15.7 million members)

“The Holiness of God is not evidenced in women when they are brash, brassy, boisterous, brazen, head-strong, strong-willed, loud-mouthed, overly-talkative, having to have the last word, challenging, controlling, manipulative, critical, conceited, arrogant, aggressive, assertive, strident, interruptive, undisciplined, insubordinate, disruptive, dominating, domineering, or clamoring for power. Rather, women accept God’s holy order and character by being humbly and unobtrusively respectful and receptive in functional subordination to God, church leadership, and husbands.” –James Fowler: Women in the Church, 1999.

People who use the bible—“God’s word”—to justify their treatment of people, including eliminating reproductive rights for women,  often also say that no one should take the words in the bible literally. According to Matthew 13:13:

“Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

People who try to limit others by quoting the bible should follow their own advice and not bully others with their personal religion.

Fortunately, many people in the United States agree with this position. Counter-protests yesterday were much larger than the anti-abortion activists outside Planned Parenthood to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood. Those attending the rallies talked about how much Planned Parenthood does for health—birth control, cancer screenings, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, counseling, etc. Medicaid funds pay for these health services for both men and women. Last month, Donald Trump banned U.S. funding to any international group that even provides information about abortions. Cutting funds for Planned Parenthood would cause 400,000 women to lose access to health care.

Oregon senators, in support of women, are working on a bill to require Oregon insurance companies to cover reproductive health care services. The Reproductive Health Equity Act, HB 2232, would cover all services under the current Affordable Care Act as well as abortion. The bill goes to the House first to address questions and clarify language. At this time, the measure has an exemption that protects religious beliefs.

Illinois advocates are supporting HB 40 to guarantee reproductive care services, including abortion, for all enrolled in Medicaid, something available only in 17 other states.

New Mexico lawmakers have introduced three bills to improve reproductive health access and rights: preserve birth control access, allow women to obtain one year of contraceptive medication at a time, penalize medical providers who refuse reproductive health services, and mandate “reasonable accommodations: for pregnant women in the workplace. Hospitals would not be permitted to “limit or otherwise interfere” with a doctor’s “independent professional judgment” in providing reproductive health information, referrals, and procedures “where a failure to provide” them “would violate the medical standard of care owed to the patient.”

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed an amendment to the state constitution that protects abortion rights as outlined in Roe v. Wade.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has approved a bill prohibiting discrimination based on reproductive decisions or pregnancy with a limited exemption for religious institutions but not for business owners who use religion to object.

Respect for women means respecting our rights–all of them.

February 5, 2017

DDT Aims U.S. toward Bigoted Theocracy

With 80 percent of the evangelical vote in the recent election, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is paying them back for their loyalty. He nominated Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court to get anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-death with dignity rulings. At the National Prayer Breakfast, he promised to allow tax-exempt churches to promote candidates from the pulpit and engage in other political action while keeping their tax-exempt status. And he appointed Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. to an educational task force for the Department of Education that will use right-wing fundamentalist Christianity in controlling higher education through eliminating regulations to keep the institutions secular.

In a bizarre appearance, DDT gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast that lambasted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance on The Apprentice and asked the audience to pray for the series that he produces. Then DDT proceeded to justify his ban against Muslims entering the United States by saying that  it will ensure that everyone in the U.S. will follow “our values of religious and personal liberty.” About Senate Chaplain Barry Black, DDT asked, “Is that an appointed position? I don’t even know if you’re Democrat or if you’re Republican, but I’m appointing you for another year, the hell with it.” Yup. The hell with it.

DDT used Jefferson’s language at the prayer breakfast to argue for limiting worship in the United States to Christianity and eliminating the Islam religion:

“It was the great Thomas Jefferson who said, the God who gave us life, gave us liberty. Jefferson asked, can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God. Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution. . . .”

The founding father believed in the “right to worship,” not the right to take away other people’s rights.

The last fragile vestige of separation of church and state came from the Johnson Amendment from over a half century ago, but Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) have introduced legislation to eliminate that law. DDT declared he would destroy the law. The proposed bill would ban religious institutions from donating to campaigns, but there can always be amendments.

Under the existing Johnson Amendment, religious groups may discuss political issues but not endorse candidates. Religious groups may spend up to 20 percent of their operating budget on political organizing and advocacy without violating their tax-exempt status. LifeWay, a religious research organization, found that 79 percent of U.S. citizens don’t believe “pastors [should] publicly endorse political candidates during a church service.”

DDT has still not overturned President Obama’s executive order that prohibited federal contractors from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation, but he is considering an executive order allow religious beliefs to discriminate against anyone. The basis of the drafted order:

“This Constitutional protection ensures that Americans and their religious organizations will not be coerced by the Federal Government into participating in activities that violate their consciences, and will remain free to express their viewpoints without suffering adverse treatment from the Federal Government.”

Although the news media has focused on the order’s effect on LGBT people, it could be disastrous for children, non-Christians, unmarried heterosexual couples, unmarried mothers, and women’s reproductive rights, including contraception and abortion—in short, permitting anyone to refuse any services for any self-declared “religious” reasons. The order could permit child abuse, domestic violence, injuries, any persecution or humiliation, and perhaps even murder. Parents could deny medical attention to their children and allow them to die.

The order would cover “any organization, including closely held for-profit corporations” “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”

In addition, the order would allow any church or charitable organization  to be directly political without losing their tax exempt status if  it “believes, speaks, or acts (or declines to act) in accordance with the belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, sexual relations are properly reserved for such a marriage, male and female and their equivalents refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy, physiology, or genetics at or before birth, and that human life begins at conception and merits protection at all stages of life.”

According to the draft of the order, agencies shall faithfully discharge their duty to accommodate the religion of federal employees and shall not promulgate regulations, take actions, or enact policies that substantially burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious exercise

Asked if DDT believes that Islam is a religion, senior White House aide Sebastian Gorka, a former Breitbart national security editor, refused to answer. Islamphobia has run rampant at the White House: its National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, described Islam as a “cancer,” which “hides behind this notion of being a religion,” and Steve Bannon has made other inflammatory comments about the religion. Avoiding to answer this question indicates that the answer would probably be “no—Islam is not a religion” from the White House administration.

Pope Francis called out DDT on his Muslim ban, criticizing “the contradiction of those who want to defend Christianity in the West, and, on the other hand, are against refugees and other religions.” Francis explained:

“The sickness or, you can say the sin, that Jesus condemns most is hypocrisy, which is precisely what is happening when someone claims to be a Christian but does not live according to the teaching of Christ. You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian.”

The pope cited the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 which concluded, “I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

[Note: DDT’s staff must have taken away his phone again. Thus far, he has not tweeted against the pope–just the “so-called judge” who overturned his Muslim ban.]

Fundamentalist Christians are accusing progressive women of being witches if they don’t support DDT. In the past men controlled women by declaring them witches and killing them. The water test meant that they were innocent if they drowned and guilty—and then burned at the stake—if they survived. Twenty-first century men are bringing back the threat of witchcraft for uppity women who marched for our rights.

According to “prophet” Rick Joyner, any opposition to DDT is the sign of devil influence and explained that the march’s “out-of-control rage” had to be Satanic. Lance Wallnau accused the nature of “the progressive spirit” in “a desire to control and intimidate, manipulate”—just like witchcraft. Jim Bakker chimed in with his second wife, Lori, to talk to Billye Brim who explained that the march was “driven by demons” and called on her viewers to pray in order to “control the demons that were in those women.” Bakker agreed that he sensed “the most evil spirit I have ever felt” in his hotel lobby on the day of the march.

Bakker was imprisoned for several years and then divorced after his sex scandal, including an alleged rape, and accounting fraud. Jerry Falwell, Sr. called Bakker a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history.”

Despite the founding of the nation on religious liberty, almost one-third of people in the United States think that only Christians can be real “Americans.” Once again, the youth of the nation may save the country: 44 percent of adults over 50 find Christianity being a key whereas only 18 percent of adults younger than 35 agree.

Religion as the key to being a part of the national identity is far more prevalent than it is in other countries. Only 13 percent of Australians, 15 percent of Canadians, and 15 percent of Europeans believe that belonging in their countries is tied to the Christian religion.

In answer to another question on the poll, the same percentage of people in the U.S.—32 percent—think that people have to be born in the country to be an “American.”

Under DDT, the United States is shifting from being a “flawed democracy” to a white supremacist theocracy.

June 5, 2016

Conservative Governments Push Christianity with Taxpayer Funds

North Carolina’s law that forces all communities to maintain the lowest minimum wage and discriminate against veterans gained fame for keeping transgender people from the restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identities. Far-right religious conservative leaders are taking pride in proclaiming their determination to keep their version of Christianity in laws. For example, that state’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest made the following statement on a far-right conspiracy theorist’s radio show. He justified HB2, the discriminatory measure, because “we have a lack of moral compass in our country right now, we’ve taken our eyes off God in America, we have turned our back on God, we have forgotten God in a lot of ways, so the moral compass is broken here.”

Forest continued by explaining that these discriminatory laws “discriminate against behavior, not against people.” He compares them to traffic laws: “If I want to go out and drive 95 miles an hour down the interstate in North Carolina because I feel like doing that, I don’t have the right to do that. It doesn’t mean the law is discriminating against me, it’s discriminating against my behavior of wanting to drive 95.” His logic is problematic: traffic laws aren’t created because people have “turned their backs on God.” The other piece of his illogical statement is that a car’s speed has nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation or identity. Forrest also blamed the media for the entire controversy.

Phil Bryant, governor of Mississippi, is also busy defending his state’s new discriminatory law:  “About 60 days ago, it seemed as if all of the secular, progressive world had decided they were going to pour their anger and their frustration—their friends in the media willingly joining with them to bring all that they could upon the governor of the state…  How dare them [sic]. How dare them [sic].” He finished by stating that he was willing to be crucified for his beliefs against transgender people using the appropriate bathrooms.

In Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation in April encouraging “all Iowans” to participate in a statewide Bible-reading marathon, a declaration that the ACLU argues is unconstitutional. The marathon is scheduled for four days starting on June 30 and located in front of all 99 state courthouses. The declaration also states that “the Bible is recognized as the one true revelation from God” and that  “I, Terry E. Branstad, Governor of the State of Iowa, do hereby encourage all Iowans to read through the bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.” The “Lemon test” for constitutionality, taken from the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman , establishes three criteria for government action:

  1. Does the government action have a secular purpose?
  2. Does the government action have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion?
  3. Does the government action foster an excessive entanglement between government and religion?

Violation of any one of the above violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prohibits the promotion of one religion over another. Both Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas objected to the Lemon test, but Scalia is gone from the court.

Mike Robertson, the mayor of Beebe (AR), has selected the celebration of the nation in its freedom from religious and other domination by Britain, to pay for a gospel band at the 4th of July festivity. His letter encouraging people to attend the concert read in part: “Their goal for the evening is to usher in the presence of god and to celebrate the Christian message. They feel privileged and honored to enjoy the freedom to honor Christ with any and all of their abilities.” Robertson’s justification of using taxpayer funds for a religious concert is that people can just stay home if they don’t approve.

Two years ago, Beebe approved a small temple in a garage, thinking that it was Christian, but then falsely claimed the zoning laws would prevent worship on that property after they found out that the temple would be pagan. Robertson’s justification of using taxpayer funds for a religious concert is that people can just stay home if they don’t approve. Beebe is also the town of under 10,000 where tens of millions of blackbirds have died in multiple years, possibly because of its fireworks during a temperature inversion. Or maybe God-created events against the city’s bigotry.

Not every government rejects all religions except Christianity. Philadelphia has followed New York City in adding two Muslim holy days to the school calendar. Students will be given the days off for Eid al-Fitr, celebrated following the month-long observance of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which marks the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham in Judaism and Christianity) to sacrifice his son for God.  In the upcoming school year, Eid al-Adha falls on September 13 and Eid al-Fitr on June 25, a Sunday.

The 2016-2017 Philadelphia school calendar has already been drafted so students and staff who wish to celebrate the two holidays will have excused absences. After that the Philadelphia school district will send the holiday dates to the School Reform Commission, which oversees Philadelphia’s public schools. These holidays vary each year as Muslims follow a Lunar calendar. Philadelphia is also exploring how to make the two holy days city holidays.

bible emoji

My favorite story of today! Emojis have popped up—briefly—almost everywhere, but they may have hit the ultimate location—the Bible.  Now available is the newest bible translation, Bible Emoji: Scripture 4 Millennials. This project follows The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less … Now with 68% More Humor, published in 2013. Jana Riess’s four-year project translates the holy book into tweets; she sent out one tweet per chapter every day.

The creator of Bible Emoji used the translation engine Lingo Jam to automatically translate all 66 books of the Bible. The person chose about 80 emojis from Unicode and 200 corresponding words, linking each with words that are often repeated in the Bible. About 15 percent of the total character count of the biblical text was replaced with modern slang.

The anonymous author of the emoji version who represents himself or herself on Twitter, @emojiBible, shows God as a smiley face. The six-month project had a few glitches. One respondent suggested that the author might be wrong in emojing  “in the beginning angels created the stars & the earth.”

The emoji bible is an excellent example of how Western culture tries to colonize Africa, South America, and the Inuit communities. The bible emoji for prayer hands fails to represent cultures that pray without outstretched hands, and emojis of supernatural figures—angels, the devil, the halo, etc.—are pop Western cultural depictions.

Someday, texting will be passe, and people will communicate completely with emojis. Unfortunately, miscommunication will most likely be even more rampant as opposite little critters can look almost exactly alike. The same thing may happen in the emoji bible.

April 6, 2016

Mississippi Wins Most Hateful Contest

If the states had a contest to see which one could pass the most hateful and broadly discriminatory law, Mississippi would be the winner—at least for now. Mississippi is the “South of the South,” according a friend familiar with “the South.” To keep their pride—and poverty— the state legislature has passed, and Gov. Phil Bryant has signed, a law that may be the model for the conservative extremists in other red states. Legislators started with right-wing reaction to giving marriage rights to same-gender couples and then accelerated with the thought of transgender people using the bathroom that matches their gender identity—and their appearance. The claim is protecting “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions,” but its purpose is to allow discrimination against most people to run amok. It allows employers to use not only bathroom and locker access policies but also dress code and grooming.

Bryant claims that “this bill does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions of any citizens of this state under federal or state laws” and “is designed in the most targeted manner possible to prevent government interference in the lives of the people.” It actually doesn’t limit the rights of any Christians who profess religious liberty, but everyone else has lost their rights.

The law has the standard stuff about permitting people to be turned away from businesses, refused marriage licenses, denied housing, and turned down for essential services and care. On July 1, 2016, the law grants this “religious freedom” not only to the organizations that IRS grants freedom because of religion but also any private sector or government entity that wants to decline goods and services to anyone who they find objectionable.

In addition to LGBT and human rights groups, the Mississippi Economic Council has come out against the law for fear that it will negatively impact both customers and employees of businesses. The Mississippi Manufacturers Association also opposes the law because of the negative impact on business and industry in Mississippi. The law violates corporate policies, keeping b businesses from staying in or moving to the state. Nissan, Toyota, and IBM have all expressed concern about the new law.

Mississippi isn’t alone in a hate bill based on protecting religion: almost three dozen states introduced almost 200 anti-LGBT bills in their legislatures this year. Most states have failed, including South Dakota and Georgia where the governors vetoed these bills. North Carolina succeeded before Mississippi, and it will be a litmus test on how hate legislation affects the state’s economy. PayPal has already abandoned plans to expand into Charlotte (NC). Both Kansas and Missouri have new “religious freedom” bills.

New York, Vermont, and Washington have already banned  ban state-financed travel to Mississippi. As in North Carolina, federal agencies are reviewing the possibility of pulling funding because of the law.

The law makes any sex outside marriage illegal. According to the Washington Post,it prevents the government from ‘discriminating’ (through taxes, fines, withholding benefits, or other forms of retaliation) against a ‘person’ (broadly defined as an individual, religious organization, association, corporation and other kinds of businesses) for acting on their religious convictions regarding sexuality and marriage. That includes employers, landlords and rental companies, adoption and foster care agencies, people and companies that provide marriage-related services (rental halls, photographers, florists, etc.).”

All state employees can openly express their beliefs without consequence because the law states that no one can be sued for discrimination.Doctors using the religious conviction excuse are protected if they refuse to provide counseling, sex-reassignment surgery, fertility treatments, and other services. Counselors, even those paid by taxpayers, can refuse to serve people. Foster and adoptive families may religiously “guide, raise or instruct” children anyway that they want, including forcing children into “conversion therapy.”

People can decide “whether or not to hire, terminate or discipline an individual whose conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent” with their beliefs or moral convictions as well as decide to whom they will sell or rent housing they control based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. Any person  or school can establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming,” and can manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities.

Protect Thy Neighbor, a project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, listed some hypotheticals of the law’s results beyond the LGBT community:

  • An adoption agency could refuse to place a child with a family if the parents lived together before they were married.
  • A counselor could refuse to help a teen who called a suicide hotline.
  • A car rental agency could refuse to rent a car to a single unmarried mother.
  • A corporation could fire a woman for wearing slacks.

All people who use religion as a reason to discriminate are protected from tax penalties, loss of contracts or grants, or loss of other benefits such as licenses or certification. And on and on! Citing religious beliefs for discrimination not only gives people victory in court but also compensatory damages. The law also voids any anti-discrimination laws in cities or counties.

Five years ago, 46 percent of Mississippians wanted to outright ban interracial marriages, and now a Mississippi landlord is able to refuse rental to a married interracial couple, a Hispanic/Native American woman and a black man. The man is a member of the National Guard. The law legalizes this egregious act.

Although anyone can be blocked from being served by both private companies and government agencies, the Mississippi legislature does have concern about safety in church. The state senate passed the “Mississippi Church Protection Act” allowing concealed carry in churches without a permit and provides immunity from civil and criminal penalties for any designated “sergeant at arms” who has supposedly undergone training. The bill also includes a provision allowing people to concealed carry without a permit. If it passes, Mississippi would be the ninth state to have this law. The Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police strongly opposes the bill, but they have no say about the lack of concealed carry permits.

Bryant said that Mississippi law is all about giving freedom to people, but he must not consider women to be people. Women who want to have an abortion in the one remaining women’s clinic in the state must have state-directed counseling in person to discourage her from the procedure and then wait another 24 hours–meaning two different trips to the clinic. A woman must undergo an ultrasound and be offered the option of seeing the image.

Health plans under the Affordable Care Act can cover abortion only in cases when the woman’s life is endangered, rape or incest. Insurance policies for public employees cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest, or fetal abnormality. Telemedicine with medication abortion is prohibited. Abortions are performed after 18 weeks only if the woman’s life is endangered, her physical health is severely compromised or there is a severe fetal impairment because state legislators believe that a fetus can feel pain after that time.

Thus Mississippi protects Christians—except for women who need abortions—and no one else. My question is when two different people’s Christian beliefs conflict? Which one will have the rights?

Jesus-Facepalm

In an effort to interpret “what would Jesus think,” the anti-discrimination organization Planting Peace has put up this billboard a few blocks away from the state capitol.

March 31, 2016

“Small Government” in Kentucky, Alabama

bevins hammerWhen GOP Matt Bevin ran for Kentucky’s governor, he promised to save the people by doing away from the dreaded “Obamacare” in the state. Republicans elected him, and he kept his promise. Under the former governor, the state’s health care, KYNECT, was a model for the country in its coverage for over 500,000 people.

Here is what happened with the Tea Party’s new state computer system:

  • Benefind—Bevin’s new system to replace KYNECT for—has shut people out of their online accounts or entirely eliminated their health coverage with no warning and no explanation.
  • Children have been cut off from Medicaid coverage.
  • People who visit overcrowded state offices where they are forced to wait hours—sometimes an entire day—to see anyone. Or they are forced to come back the next day after the computers crash.
  • The helpline is available only from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, limiting access for people who work those hours.
  • The recorded message sends people to a website which has many glitches, is hard to use, and provides no help for people without computers or Internet access.
  • People looking for help in public benefits now are forced to wait hours or days as they repeatedly call the helpline that gives them only a recorded message before hanging up.
  • People who can’t get coverage are cutting back on their medications and ending up in the hospitals’ emergency rooms multiple times.
  • Over 500 workers statewide trained to help people sign up for health coverage cannot access Benefind and thus cannot help people to apply for coverage or fix problems with their coverage.
  • People who formerly provided proof of citizenship can no longer get health coverage until they resubmit the documentation.

Bevin’s answer? On YouTube, he says, “I’m aware of and sensitive to your frustrations.”

Republicans who say that big government doesn’t work may be right—when they’re trying to operate it.

[Personal comment: Today I spent over two hours on the telephone with insurance companies and pharmacies on behalf of my partner. One of her medications cannot be generic; therefore she needs prior approval from her insurance company to pay for the brand medication. She has prior approval, but the insurance company will not send her anything in writing to prove it. Even after that, the cost of the medication with differs from $87 to $1500 for a ninety-day supply—with insurance.

I called three pharmacies multiple times to find the prices. All of them started out by stating that they couldn’t do that without the prescription although one of them said on the opening telephone message that it would give the prices of medications for Medicare. The cheapest pharmacy, gave three different prices on three different calls, but refused to give any written verification. It will take faxes for the prescription but won’t send a fax to request the prescription from the pharmacy that holds the prescription. That pharmacy will fax the prescription on but only after it is asked. Another prescription will require a doctor’s visit.

I’m retired—sort of—and have the time to make the calls during the daytime when these places are open. I’m also determined and willing to take on the problems of these calls. After a drastic increase in my blood pressure over the two hours, I can’t imagine the pain that people in Kentucky are now enduring—just because the GOP doesn’t like “big government” and probably people. Then there’s the issue of a different in almost $6,000 for a prescription from a local pharmacy and the “mail-in” part of a huge insurance company. These problems are something that could be changed by single-payer or universal health care, but it might violate our freedom. Big business loves our freedom because it gives them trillions of dollars.]

Did I mention that Republicans hate “big government”? Here’s a fine example of how they legislate it. Mississippi just passed the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” yet to be signed by GOP Gov. Phil Bryant, allowing discrimination against sex by anyone except a male/female couple after marriage. According to the language, an unmarried couple having sex in their personal bedroom is breaking the law if signed by Bryant.

In another Southern state, the big story out of Alabama less than two weeks ago showed GOP Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley governing the state by giving an 80 percent increase in salary to four cabinet members, an extra $73,405 each, after signing a bill banning all cities from raising the minimum wage—the federally mandated $7.25 an hour. These salary increases were the biggest, but dozens of other people—cabinet and staff members—also got sizeable raises.

Last August Bentley defunded Planned Parenthood in the state before a federal judge overturned his move. Taxpayers had to pay for the legal fees. Last December Bentley diverted funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to renovate a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast. In January he took 45,000 people off food stamps if they weren’t supporting minor children. Each of these people had received only $194 a month.

bentleyThis month, however, things got very bad for Robert Bentley after it was revealed that he is having phone sex—and maybe more—with his top aide, Rebecah Mason, on “burner” phones bought at Best Buy. (To find details, just Google the situation.) Rumors have been swirling about his infidelities for quite a while, but they became much more open after his wife of 50 years filed for divorce. He first denied the accusations, despite the tapes played on the media, and then asked for forgiveness. Just for his infidelity and not for refusing poor women health care, causing people to go hungry, appropriating funds for his own personal use, and trying to block LGBT rights in the name of “family values.” Bentley supporters complain that the emphasis in the country shouldn’t be on sex—no problem as long as conservative laws don’t prioritize sex in their “big government” prohibitions.

Although some lawmakers talk about impeaching Bentley, he says he won’t quit. His former Baptist pastor talked about “church discipline” and said that Bentley is no longer a member of the Tuscaloosa congregation where he was once a deacon. The subject of Bentley’s desire has resigned, wanting to spend more time at home with her family, but her husband, state director of the state faith-based initiative office, remains at his job.

Mason’s company was paid over $328,000 during the past three years, more than his cabinet members before their 80 percent raise. She may have been received much more than this. Although Mason served as Bentley’s top aide, she didn’t have to file financial disclosure forms because she wasn’t designated as a state employee.

Alabama has trouble with politicians: a former governor is in prison for corruption, and the speaker of the State House of Representatives is to stand trial this year on 23 felony charges of ethics violations.

Bentley is using his position to investigate two men for blogging about his alleged affair with political adviser Rebekah Mason. He ordered the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and the Law Enforcement Tactical System (LETS) to find incriminating evidence against attorney Donald V. Watkins, and Legal Schnauzer blogger, Roger Shuler. Some people question whether Bentley broke any laws in his love fest, but Watkins claims investigations will find “wire and mail fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and racketeering violations under federal law, among other charges …[in circumventing] public oversight, transparency and competitive bid laws by channeling millions of public dollars into entities like the Workforce Councils of Alabama and others legitimate agencies and then directing the recipient agency to execute vendor contracts with certain special friends and supporters.”

The U.S. House Freedom Caucus, each making an annual salary of $174,000, is working toward “small government”by not going to work. Despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s claim that the entire last year of the presidential term is a “lame-duck session,” the HFC understands that this time is only the approximately 75 days between the general election and the new president’s inauguration. Members hope to not go into session for this time, causing only 17 days in session after July 15 and  zero days after September 30. They have to wait until April 12 to do this because they aren’t in session.

Conservative House members have already killed the budget and the appropriations process for the year, and the government can’t operate after September 30 without a continuing resolution to maintain last year’s spending levels. HFC board member Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) described the lame-duck session as “a bunch of people who have already either quit, retired or been fired by their constituents decide they still want to vote on major stuff.” He admitted that quitting work that early this year wouldn’t look good for the legislators. He also said, “When you’re one of the people who tends to think most of what we do here is screwed up in the first place, then the less we do, maybe the better.”

That’s life in the world of conservatives who want “small government.”

December 20, 2015

What Christianity Teaches

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 1:25 PM
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Around 2016 years ago, a non-Christian Middle Eastern couple needed refuge for the night. There was no room at the inn, but the innkeeper offered the travelers, one of whom was pregnant with another Man’s child, the option of bedding down in the barn. It was there that Jesus Christ was born. Or so the story goes.

The Nativity scene is an icon of current Christian celebration during December although the event most likely occurred in spring. Yet at least five states with these scenes in their capitols or governors’ mansions also refuse to accept any Middle-Eastern refugees in their boundaries. According to the story, an angel of the Lord told Joseph and Mary that they must escape to Egypt because Herod was searching for Jesus to kill him. Legislators claim that they are keeping out Syrian attackers after the Paris attacks to keep out Syrian refugees, but all the attackers were citizens of European countries.

Violence from the conservative propaganda against Islam has expanded to children.  A seventh grader in Ohio tried to resolve his argument with a sixth-grade student on the school bus by calling him a “towel head” and threatening to bring his father’s gun the next day to shoot and kill the Muslim boy. He also called the sixth-grader the “son of ISIS” and blamed him for the 9/11 attacks. The boy denied his threats, but the heated exchange had been taped.

Wheaton College has suspended tenured political science associate professor Larycia Hawkins because she said that Christians and Muslims worship the same god. Hawkins tried to protest the increasing Islamophobia by wearing a hijab, but declaring solidarity with the religion was too much for officials at the evangelical Christian school. They wrote:

“While Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, we believe there are fundamental differences between the two faiths, including what they teach about God’s revelation to humanity, the nature of God, the path to salvation, and the life of prayer.”

Hawkins pointed out that millions of Christians throughout history have the standard belief in a common god. Miroslav Volf, a theology professor at Yale Divinity School and author of the book Allah: A Christian Response, wrote that unnecessary divisiveness over the question creates “justification for cultural and military wars.” In 2013, Brian C. Houston, the evangelical Christian leader of one of the world’s largest Christian churches, explained that Christianity and Islam have a shared deity.

The United States has had three mass shootings by Muslims out of over 350 shootings of at least four people each during 2015. Yet one of these three tragedies caused conservatives to blame the Muslims for all the gun violence in the country. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, supports Donald Trump in keeping all Muslims from coming into the United States.

Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, goes father in asking all students, staff, and faculty to carry concealed guns on campus to “teach them a lesson.” By them, we’re pretty sure that he means Muslims. Falwell said that he started carrying a .25 caliber handgun in his back pocket after the mass shooting at San Bernardino (CA). Evidently, the shooting by a white Christian at the Charleston (SC) church didn’t cause Falwell any concern. Virginia has a minimum age of 21 for concealed carry, and Falwell said later that he meant only older students should be armed.

Carson-Newman University, a private Southern Baptist college in Tennessee, is the latest school to use federal permission to ban LGBT students, unwed mothers, students who had an abortion, and pregnant women. The university president said he doesn’t know why it sought the exemption to Title IX which prohibits sex discrimination in education that also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. An attorney who filed the same application for a dozen other Christian schools told the president that it was a good idea. In the past 18 months, 56 schools have requested religious exemptions from Title IX. Of these 33 related to gender identity and 23 to sexual orientation have been awarded. A list of schools is available here. Eight senators, including Bernie Sanders and Oregon’s Ron Wyden, have asked for a website to publish the names of schools that discriminate so that students applying to college will be able to make informed decisions.

Of its 45 “speciality” licence plates in Alabama, only God plates are free, according to Gov. Robert Bentley, who announced that the God Bless America license plate will have no additional fee. People who want plates for autism, trees, education, breast cancer, wild turkey, etc. will still have to pay the usual $50 fee.

According to research from the University of Chicago, children from religious families are more selfish than those from less-religious families. In the the study’s dictator game,” 1,170 children are told that not everyone can participate in the game to get stickers and they must choose to keep or donate the stickers: “altruism was calculated as the number of stickers shared out of 10.” In another part of the study, children watched videos of people hurting others and then were asked to judge how mean the bullies are and what punishment they deserved. Non-religious children are less likely to hand out punishment and more inclined to be generous. Religious levels of the children were based on interviews with their parents about religious identity, practices, and morality of the children.

Tennessee GOP lawmakers want to ensure that non-Christians are made to feel excluded from any holiday parties. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and some legislators called for the “immediate resignation”  of University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and cuts in UT’s funding for diversity programs after he issued a memo recommending goals to make parties “build upon workplace relationships and team morale” as well as “an opportunity to reinvigorate individuals for the new year’s goals and priorities.” He also said that parties should be voluntary, not mandatory. While Tennessee suffers from ranking 37th in unemployment, 46th in school funding, and 17th in teen pregnancy, GOP politicians concentrate on their fantasy of anti-Christian discrimination. Ramsay has also urged Tennessee Christians to buy guns because “secularism” and “Jihadists” have joined together to target Christians.

While the GOP U.S. House postponed a vote on keeping the federal government open and deciding whether the U.S. should be at war with ISIS, it passed H.R. 564, sponsored by 36 male representatives. The entire name is “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected for use by those who celebrate Christmas”:

Whereas Christmas is a national holiday celebrated on December 25; and

Whereas the Framers intended that the First Amendment of the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, would not prohibit any mention of religion or reference to God in civic dialog: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas;

(2) strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas; and

(3) expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions by those who celebrate Christmas.

Less than two weeks before it celebrates the birth of Jesus, a Christian-run Kentucky homeless shelter, Emergency Christian Ministries, told all homeless women and children to leave because a “sex problem.” Billy Woodward, Emergency Christian Ministries Director, said the ban is based on teachings in the Bible because the homeless women were using the shelter as a dating or hookup service. Kentucky has the fifth-highest percentage of people in poverty, following Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Michael Long, social studies teacher at Delta Middle School in the central western part of Colorado, organized a bible giveaway in the doorway of the school library while his class met there. A child who took a photograph instead of a bible was shamed by her classmates for not agreeing with Christian beliefs. Principal Jennifer Lohrberg, supported by the district superintendent, declared that favoring one religion was according to district rules and approved by its lawyers. Other religious proselytizing at the same school during the last year included mandated attendance at a Christian religious and the use of free doughnuts as reward for attending morning prayers led by a DMS teacher.

Another school in the state, Colorado Mesa University, forced nurses graduating from the school’s program to either accept or reject a bible as they stepped down from the dais at their pinning ceremony, CMU’s graduation for nurses.  Following a discussion of the Western Colorado Atheists and Freethinkers organization, CMU president Tim Foster said that the “tradition” will be dropped.

stormtroopersThose who saw the seventh Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, need to know that it’s based on the Bible. At least that’s what Northern Exposure actress Janine Turner claimed about Darth Vader’s black costume. “This goes back to biblical times,” she asserted, because “the Bible talks darkness and light.” She didn’t explain why the hordes of evil but poorly trained Stormtroopers are dressed in white.

And that’s the Christian teaching for the week.

November 22, 2015

‘Religious Freedom,’ Safety from GOP Point of View

Seven GOP presidential candidates gathered last week at the “presidential family forum,” hosted in Iowa by the far-right fundamentalist Christian group called The Family Leader.

Republican presidential candidates, from left, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, moderator Frank Luntz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum stand on stage during the Presidential Family Forum, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

From left: Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, moderator Frank Luntz, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

When seven contenders were asked who they would first call after hearing about a terrorist attack, Fiorina and Huckabee said they’d fall to their knees and pray. Messages from GOP presidential candidates, including these seven, don’t fit the positions that Jesus espoused.

Donald Trump’s first wanted to put surveillance on mosques but moved on to agreeing that Muslims should be forced to wear identifying marks because of their Islam religion. He’s disagreed that he said this, but there’s video of the interview. This morning he doubled down on his call to keep Syrians out of the United States and added that he would torture Syrian refugees.

Marco Rubio goes beyond Trump: “it’s about closing down any place—whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site—any place where radicals are being inspired.” He said on the Fox network this morning that the attacks on Paris were a “positive development.”

John Kasich, sometimes considered a more reasonable GOP presidential candidate, wants a new government agency to push Judeo-Christian values throughout the world—specifically in China, Iran, Russia, and the Middle East. He said:

“I will consolidate [U.S. Public Diplomacy and International Broadcasting] into a new agency that has a clear mandate to promote the core Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share.”

Questions about his approach:

  • Will he use public money for this endeavor, contrary to the constitution’s First Amendment?
  • Why is Iran not included in the Middle East?
  • Does he want to get rid of all other religions in China with Muslims only 1.7 percent of its population?

A day later, public opinion “softened” his approach to assigning Voice of America to spread his “Judeo-Christian Western values.” Kasich tried to walk back his Christian-only views on this morning’s Meet the Press by saying that the “Western ethic” is “about life … about equality of women … about the freedom of religion.” First, these are not necessarily the ethics of the U.S.; and second,  he assumes that only the Judeo-Christian world has these values.” When he says “they don’t want to negotiate,” he could be referring to the U.S. Congress instead of Muslims.

Ben Carson joined Trump this morning in calling for torturing Syrian refugees. Carson’s advisor, retired US Army Maj. Gen. Robert Dees, also promotes the creation of a Christian active duty military that will “indoctrinate” the people in the United States. In a 2007 video, Dees said:

“We’re in twenty different countries around the world, recognizing that if you could possibly impact the military, you can possibly impact that whole nation for Jesus Christ and for democracy and for proper morality and values-based institutions.”

After Carson compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs,” he called on a gigantic database on everyone in the U.S. According to Carson, Syrian refugees should be left where they are because of his human brain’s “big frontal lobes, as opposed to other animals, because we can engage in rational thought processing.” Still looking for an answer to the problem, he explained that his brain allowed him to “extract information from the past, present, process it, and project it into a plan” while “animals, on the other hand, have big brain stems and rudimentary things because they react.”

Carson’s answer to the Israel/Palestine problem is to leave the Israelis where they are in Palestinian territory and “just slip [the Palestinian territory] into Egypt.” Chris Matthews broke up reading the quote on MSNBC’s Hardball, and Trevor Noah used the clip for part of his takedown of the hapless candidate. While Trump keeps approximately one-third of the GOP support in various polls, Carson has slipped to third in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mike Huckabee uses food analogies in comparing refugees to “tainted milk,” Chipotle’s problem with E.coli, huge bags of peanuts with ten poisoned ones, etc. He also can’t imagine anyone other than extremist Muslims targeting innocent civilians. Yet in the decade after the 9/11 attacks, Christian terrorists have averaged 337 attacks in the U.S. per year, killing at least 254 people. The death toll increased after the release of the study in 2012. During the same time, an average of nine U.S. Muslims were involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots in the U.S. The 20 plots carried out in fewer than 14 years had 50 fatalities.

A few extremist Christian terrorist actions in the U.S.:

The Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church Shooting: On July 27, 2008, devout Christian Jim David Adkisson killed two children and wounded seven other.

Christian Terrorism against Doctors Who Perform Abortions:  Dr. Richard Gunn was killed in 1993, Drs. John Britton and James Barrett were killed in 1994, Dr. Barnett Sleipan was killed in a home in 1998, Dr. George Tiller was shot dead in his church in 2009, and many other doctors were wounded by Christian terrorists in the U.S. because of religious beliefs–17 attempted murders, 383 death threats, 153 incidents of assault or battery, 13 wounded, 100 butyric acid attacks, 373 physical invasions, 41 bombings, 655 anthrax threats, and 3 kidnappings committed against abortion providers since 1977. All these were by extremist Christian terrorists on U.S. soil.

The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombings: Member of the Seventh-Day Adventist splinter group Branch Davidians, Timothy McVeigh, killed 168 people when he detonated a fertilizer bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Another 648 were wounded.

Ku Klux Klan: For the past 150 years, the terrorist extremist Christian groups has terrorized people in the name of Protestantism and racism against blacks, Jews, immigrants, LGBTs, and Catholics. Only two weeks ago, Frazier Glenn Cross, the leader of the Carolina Knights of the KKK, was sentenced to death by lethal injection for murdering a 14-year-old girl and two seniors outside the Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Kansas City. He said, “Jews are destroying the white race” but didn’t realize until afterwards that none of his victims was Jewish.

The Massacre at Zion Emmanuel AME Church (Charleston, SC): An extremist Christian white man killed nine black worshippers.

Ted Cruz is willing to take in Syrian refugees as long as they are proved to be Christians. Without the refugee program, the United States would not have Cruz because his father, Rafael Cruz, was granted asylum in the U.S., but the elder Cruz wants radical Christianity imposed on the entire United States while eliminating atheists and LGBT people. Cruz  also asked for more “tolerance for civilian casualties” in President Obama’s airstrikes (aka let’s kill more innocent people) and joined Huckabee in ignorance about extremist Christian killings in the United States.

Jeb Bush, like Cruz, can’t find any Christian terrorists but couldn’t find words when he was asked how to prove that the refugees are Christians. He finally said, “You know, you err on the side of caution.”

Rand Paul introduced a bill to stop refugees from 34 “high-risk” countries and an amendment to a housing and transportation funding bill barring federally-funded social welfare assistance for any refugees from those same “high-risk” nations. Libertarian policy experts oppose discrimination against people from specific countries. Paul’s office calls it a “careful balance of libertarian principles,” meaning that any non-libertarian view is a “balance.”

Rick Santorum opposes bringing Syrian refugees to the United States. Instead, he wants them put into resettlement camps somewhere in the Middle East. Trump made the same suggestion.

Carly Fiorina just keeps doing what she does best—lying. “The vast majority of these refugees are young, able-bodied men looking for work,” she said, perhaps hoping that the media wouldn’t pick up on her false statement. According to a UN database of 4 million registered Syrian refugees, most of them are children under 18. Geoffrey Mock, a Syrian country specialist for Amnesty International USA, said, “The priorities go to torture survivors, people with serious medical conditions, children and teens on their own, and women and children at risk.” Of the 10,000 refugees who President Obama proposes to bring to the U.S., only 22 percent are “young able-bodied men”—2,200.

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s almost-gone governor and the latest GOP presidential candidate dropout, told Fox that his state will ban Syrian refugees and that he’s “ordered the state police to track the ones that are already in Louisiana.” Doug Cain, spokesman for the state police, said that this statement isn’t true. He added, “We are just keeping an open line of communication with federal authorities to make sure everyone is safely settled.”

At the close of the religious gathering in Iowa, Cruz made a prophetic statement:

“If conservatives come together and stand as one, it’s game over.”

Cruz was correct in a very twisted way: the United States may be entering a darker period than even during George W. Bush’s reign—unlimited torture, surveillance by profiling, banning refugees, religious discrimination and forced Christianity, concentration camps, and World War III.

July 19, 2015

Religion + Politics = Discrimination

Republicans still reeling from Supreme Court decisions delivered at the end of their session and the showdown over the Confederate flag are working on responses. Because it is unlikely that they can add an amendment to the constitution that would ban marriage equality, they plan to make life as miserable as possible for same-sex couples as possible, using “religious freedom” as their excuse. Bills to grant protections for objections to marriage equality on moral grounds drafted by Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)  already have 130 sponsors, and House conservatives demanded a vote.

At the same time, other Republicans are searching for ways to expand legal protections for LGBT people. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) has prepared an amendment to limit the inflammatory language from Labrador and Lee plus adding enhanced nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people. His concern echoes those of others that the anti-LGBT bill may “see the Indiana debacle turn into a national nightmare.” The amendment would include workplace and housing nondiscrimination language to protect LGBT individuals from losing their jobs or being denied a home because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some conservatives in Congress understand that reelection depends on not alienating every constituent except the white man while more extremists go for the throat in every situation. Colby Itkowitz shows the reason behind congressional gridlock in this contrast between Dent and his GOP colleague Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio.

Asked about whether the House will be having a debate about religious freedom in August, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “No decision has been made on—on how best to address these.” In other words, Boehner once again has no idea what to do about his caucus. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is responsible for formally drafting the bill, but it is busy attempt to skewer presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Benghazi and emails. In the meantime, Labrador said that he isn’t going to give LGBT people legal protections.

The GOP worries that they need to have “religious freedom” laws as legal protection is necessary to keep federal licenses for discriminatory religious broadcasters, federal grants and tax-exempt status for faith-based charities, and funding for Catholic schools. In the past 30 years, very few organizations have lost their tax-exempt status, mainly because of fraud. No one has ever threatened religious organizations that refuse to hire women.

At the same time, the proposed bills have such loose language that “Christians” could fire single women for being pregnant. H.R. 2802, the misnamed First Amendment Defense Act, stops government action against a person—which, of course, includes for-profit corporations—acting from a religious belief that favors their description of traditional marriage. Businesses can discriminate and keep their federal contracts because the bill includes protections for people who believe marriage is between “one man and one woman” and “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Labrador and Lee, along with their co-sponsors, believe that single mothers can also legally be targets of discrimination.

This concern isn’t in the realm of fantasy: religious schools have fired unwed teachers for being pregnant, even if they weren’t part of the ministerial exception that the Supreme Court blessed. Labrador wants to legalize bigotry because the bill is “just allowing people to continue to believe the way they do.” Lee agreed by supporting the idea that an unmarried woman could be fired from a university for having sex out of wedlock, even if that university receives money from taxpayers.

The politics of the bill are complex because Labrador, co-founder of the extremist conservative Freedom Caucus, has wanted the job of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who controls the floor schedule. When some Tea Party members in the House have gotten out of line, they have seen their legislation blocked as well as temporarily losing their committee positions. The religious freedom act will most likely take a back seat to discussions about whether to declare war on Iran in the next eight weeks, especially because Congress will be in recess over half that time.

Recently, the International Olympic Committee approved Proposal 14 of the Olympic Agenda, keeping the games out of countries with anti-LGBT laws, a ruling that could eliminate the United States from the Olympics if the “religious freedom” bill were to pass. Or from states such as Indiana that have discriminatory laws allowing some areas to deny service to LGBT people, even after the uproar about a discrimination bill. Eighteen other states have laws legalizing discrimination: Florida in preventing same-sex couples form adopting children, Texas in evicting same-sex couples from lodging, etc. The Olympics may prefer London over Louisiana where patriots with Confederate flags can protest a gay swimmer from another country. The heading of the map below shows the level of discrimination in different states based on religious beliefs.

map religious freedom

The far-right population has gotten even crazier since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. For example, Truenews host Rick Wiles has a theory about why the justices voted to allow same-sex couples to marry:

“Perhaps [Justice] Kennedy and many of those who are on the Supreme Court have had sodomite relations themselves.”

Wiles concluded that they were being blackmailed by their same-sex lovers from fear of being exposed. Before the decision, Wiles had promised to renounce his U.S. citizenship if the Supreme Court accepted same-sex marriage. There is no evidence that he followed through.

The Louisiana Supreme Court did determine in Costanza v. Caldwell that the state has to allow same-sex marriage, but they didn’t like doing it. Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll wrote about the “horrific impact these five lawyers have made on the democratic rights of the American people,” and Justice John Weimer said that it is not a judge’s job to “point out what, in my view, the law should be.” One judge even dissented, claiming that he is convinced by the falsehood same-sex adoption leads to pedophilia.

Kansas’ Republican governor, Sam Brownback, issued an executive order prohibiting state government from taking action against clergy or religious organizations denying services to couples based on religious beliefs. His order is so far-reaching that a homeless shelter that receives taxpayer funding could refuse housing to a same-sex couple with a child or a foster care agency could refuse to place a child with a family member in a same-sex relationship. Because “religious organization” lacks definition, businesses could use the order to deny people service.

After the Supreme Court legalization of marriage equality, presidential candidate Rick Santorum repeated his argument that homosexuality is like “man on dog.” The last time he made this declaration, he paid dearly when Dan Savage used a specific sex act as another definition for Santorum.

Glencoe (AL) mayor, Charles Gilchrist, cried Christian persecution because he was asked to follow the constitution by taking down the Christian flag next to the U.S. stars and bars. The city attorney warned Gilchrist that a lawsuit could cost the town more than $500,000, as another town had to do. The Christian flag is being used as a revolution against marriage equality. An anti-LGBT pastor in North Carolina, Rit Varriale, called on churches to raise the Christian flag above the U.S. one, a violation of the U.S. Flag Code. He wanted this done “as a demonstration that Christians will respect and obey the federal government up to the point that the government asks something that is inconsistent with what God has called His people to do.”

My favorite Christian story of the week comes from Queen Creek (AZ) where a woman was upset by the “devilish” cake from Costco. The design for  her six-year-old’s birthday cake from a picture, but she was “extremely shocked and upset to see a demonic symbol written clear as a day” on the cake.

 

cake good

To Jessica Eckerdt, the cute little dinosaur had only three legs, 666 was written on the icing, and images of the devil were spread across the bottom of the design. Plus she bought the cake in Superstition Springs, and Costco has 666 stores. (They really have 672.) Now little kids can no longer get dinosaur cakes from Costco. (The story is almost two years old, but it’s too good to miss.)

July 18, 2015

GOP Competes with Trump in Bigotry

No matter how much Republican politicians want Donald Trump to go away, he continues to suck the energy out of the presidential candidate. HuffPo has so little regard for him that they are leaving him in the entertainment section instead of putting his news in “politics.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) railed against Trump’s “firing up the crazies,” having forgotten that he tried to put one of the finest crazies just a heartbeat away from being President of the United States. McCain may have the last word, however, after Trump insinuated that McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured. The question is whether that’s the tipping point of Trump’s outrageous statements.

For what seems forever, Trump has led the growing GOP pack of presidential candidates, now at 18 percent and trailed by Scott Walker and Jeb Bush who flip back and forth between second place. This was after Fox laid out Trump’s position, repeating the accusation that undocumented immigrants are “rapists.” Seven in ten Republicans—70 percent—believe that Trump is right.

Even worse for the Republicans is the increase of President Obama’s approval rating, up three points last month to 47 percent—on a Fox poll. A real poll put the president at 52 percent approval.

Having gotten elected for another six years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) set out to alienate another GOP constituency—older people. After the House passed a five-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund—meaning no projects because of no funding assurance for next year–McConnell wants a long-term funding law paid by removing money from Social Security for the elderly and disabled, homeowners, and retirement funds for federal employees. McConnell’s proposal would cut the return investment rate on a retirement investment plan and eliminate Social Security payments for an elderly recipient who has an outstanding arrest warrant, no matter the reason or how long ago the warrant was issued. There was no mention of increasing taxes on the wealthy or cutting funding from wars.

The grand idea for the future highway funding from the House is not much better: a small tax on monies that corporations bring back from tax havens in exchange for massive corporate tax breaks in the future. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports the idea, why I don’t know.

Technically, highways should be funded by the gas tax, but that hasn’t been increased for 22 years, and the GOP isn’t about to raise it now. President Reagan, for all his lack of progressive attitudes, raised the gas tax by 125 percent because he knew the importance of the nation’s infrastructure. President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system in the name of national security, but current Republicans lack the foresight to consider this while they clamor for war in the Middle East.

The GOP is also back to attacking women’s reproductive rights through a bill limiting abortions to under 20 weeks. At this point, they think they’ve got the goods on Planned Parenthood through a heavily-edited misleading video that insinuates the falsehood that the organization sells fetal tissue from its abortions. Conservatives have gotten a lot of press from an official talking clinically about fetal tissue, but there was no indication of wrong-doing—just a lack of perceiving a fetus as a cuddly creature as anti-abortion activists think of it.

Examining the issue, however, brings up some unpleasant facts for the congressional members who are crying foul: they have known about the video for almost a month and saved it for their own political reasons. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee looking into the video, said that he’d seen the clip weeks before. When he was asked why he and others waited weeks to take action, Murphy searched for words until he said, “This interview didn’t happen.” He’s been in Congress for 12 years and knows that he can’t tell a journalist that there was no interview. He does know how ridiculous the GOP looks to call the situation potentially criminal but do nothing about it, such as calling authorities.

Obviously, Republicans want to use the video to push their anti-choice issues. The destruction of the low-income housing group ACORN was so successful years ago from edited undercover videos suggesting criminal activity that they hope the strategy will work with Planned Parenthood. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said he keeps an acorn in his pocket that “represents ACORN’s scalp.” He added, “Ask me after the appropriations cycle and see if I have a talisman in my pocket for Planned Parenthood’s.” (I hate to think what it would be.) King, known for his outrageous, virulent anti-immigrant statements, also tweeted yesterday, “What does [Housing and Urban Development Secretary] Julian Castro know? Does he know that I’m as Hispanic and Latino as he?” He hasn’t responded to questions about what he meant by the tweet.

On the video, Planned Parenthood didn’t talk about doing anything illegal, but it may have been illegally made. The organization called Center for Medical Progress (CMP) may also be in hot water. It describes itself as “a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances” and filed with the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The group actually pushes pro-life, anti-abortion principles, as shown by its website, with its “undercover footage.” Pushing anti-abortion legislation makes the group a “right-to-life” non-profit which must be shown in its filing.

The head of CMP, David Daleiden, is a former anti-abortion Live Action worker and associate of both Lila Rose and James O’Keefe, who creates edited sting videos to attack progressive organizations and politicians. CMP is a recent creation, its blog starting 12 days ago, tweets not coming out until last Tuesday, and its Facebook page only two months old. Deliberately misleading the IRS and donors makes an organization subject to civil and criminal fraud penalties.

While the House is looking for ways to destroy women’s reproductive rights, the Senate voted in favor of LGBTQ discrimination and bullying in K-12 public schools by voting down Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) bill to ban these activities. The Student Non-Discrimination Act, would have extended the same protections to LGBTQ students that they receive for race, national origin, sex, and disability. School officials can still ban same-sex couples at proms and stand by while LGBTQ students are bullied. Even Franken’s statements about LGBTQ youth suicides didn’t sway the GOP no vote, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). All 45 votes against the bill were Republicans. As usual in the senate, a majority of 52 yes votes didn’t move the bill forward. Two presidential candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against Franken’s bill; two voted for it—Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Franken said that the Republicans were “grumpy” since same-sex couples now have the legal right to marry.

I gave Jeb Bush a pass over his statement that people “need to work longer hours” because he might have been misquoted or misunderstood. Now, however, he claims that the president’s proposed expansion of overtime pay to millions more “managers” and white-collar workers” to earn below $50,440 a year will result in “less overtime pay” and “less wages earned” because it would “lessen the number of people working.” Experts and studies refute this claim, but Republicans have never been deterred by facts and evidence. At this time, employers can deny overtime pay to “exempt” salaried managers earning more than $23,660 a year, allowing a fast-food assistant manager to work 60 hours a week with no overtime. If employers don’t want to pay the overtime, they can hire more people—creating more jobs. Increasing pay nationwide by $1.5 billion a year also increases the taxes the employees pay. Bush also misrepresents the proposal by claiming that the rules would prohibit bonuses. Ross Eisenbrey, a vice-president of the Economic Policy Institute, said: “Bush should be embarrassed about how misinformed he was.” No pass for Jeb Bush this time.

At the same time the GOP fails to support human rights, a federal agency fills in the void. Over 50 years after the civil Rights Act was passed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided that the law protects LGBTQ people in the workplace. The new decision states, “Allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex.” EEOC rulings aren’t law unless the person is a federal employee; for others, courts consider EEOC rulings as only expert advisories. When EEOC and the Supreme Court disagreed about whether federal law indefinitely prohibits discriminatory pay practices against women, only congressional action—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—granted these protections to women. This ruling is a start in the 31 states that don’t prevent job discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The GOP supports bullying and discrimination against LGBT kids, taking money from needy Social Security recipients who paid their SS taxes, destroying the U.S. highways, and discriminating against women–not men–who have sex while single. Pregnant women lose their rights but not the men who impregnated them. Welcome to the GOP US of A.

 

April 26, 2015

Conservatives’ Need for Feelings of Superiority

GOP presidential candidates blame hatred against Christians because the government is trying to provide equality for all. Some of this paranoia is coming to head on Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case about marriage equality.

The basis for conservative arguments against same-sex marriage is the fear of losing superiority. America’s Founding Fathers owned slaves and indentured servants because of superiority. It was perfectly natural for white people to own human beings as property instead of paying them for their work. After the Civil War, white people kept their superiority with “separate but equal” as blacks were forced to use segregated bathrooms, drinking fountains, and lunch counters. Everyone knew that the facilities were not equal–not even the schools–but white people maintained superiority.

Women had to fight for the vote because of male superiority. The same issue kept blacks from voting even after the 14th Amendment to the Constitution extended rights to all male citizens, excluding Native Americans until the 1960s.

In the 21st century, LGBT citizens can vote, but many same-sex couples cannot be legally married in the state where they live. The argument against marriage equality is that LGBT people want “special rights,” which are actually the same rights as the rest of the people in the United States. In a brief opposing marriage equality, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) argues that his state’s ban on same-sex marriage shouldn’t be considered discrimination because everyone is banned from marrying the same sex, gay and straight alike.

220px-Gadsden_flag.svgSome Tea Partiers who claim that the world discriminates against them more than any other group use the flag with the cry, “Don’t Tread on Me.” It was originally used as opposition to foreign countries but evolved into the Libertarian symbol, and from there it became associated with militia and white supremacist ideology. Jerad and Amanda Miller put the flag on the corpse of one of the two  Las Vegas police officers who they killed. Tea Partiers and other supremacists who oppose rights for all because they don’t want to be treated the same as everyone else.

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, is currently leading the charge in this need for superiority. In his op-ed for the New York Times, “Bobby Jindal: I’m Holding Firm against Gay Marriage,” he pictures himself as the standard-bearer “advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise.” He calls on the business community to “stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty” because “the left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence.” IBM has already criticized Jindal for supporting legal discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” Instead of trying to solve his state’s 19-percent poverty rate and its 17-percent uninsured rate, he focuses on a law based on bigotry and prejudice. As Jindal points out, Louisiana passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from unduly burdening a person’s exercise of religion. This 2010 law isn’t enough for Jindal, however. Now he wants the Marriage and Conscience Act:

“The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract—or taking other “adverse action —based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.”

Jindal’s rallying cry:

“Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it’s not freedom for all, it’s not freedom at all. This strategy requires populist social conservatives to ally with the business community on economic matters and corporate titans to side with social conservatives on cultural matters. This is the grand bargain that makes freedom’s defense possible.”

Jindal’s freedom is for those who do the rejecting, not the rejected. It calls for discrimination by those who wish to be superior in the name of Jindal’s freedom. Jindal even tries to show that discriminating against LGBT people isn’t discrimination:

“The bill does not, as opponents assert, create a right to discriminate against, or generally refuse service to, gay men or lesbians. The bill does not change anything as it relates to the law in terms of discrimination suits between private parties. It merely makes our constitutional freedom so well defined that no judge can miss it.”

Jindal justifies his actions through following the consensus of the country, “that marriage is between one man and one women” but acknowledges that “consensus is changing.” He adds, “I will not change my faith-driven view on this matter, even if it becomes a minority opinion.”

Actually, Jindal’s opinion is already a minority opinion: the newest poll shows that 63 percent of “the country” supports same-sex marriage and fewer than 33 percent oppose it. Even states without marriage equality show that a majority approves the right for same-sex couples to marry. As for serving people, 57 percent of “the country” think that business should be required to serve everyone. Among Republicans under 30, 61 percent support marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Jindal concludes by writing, “A pluralistic and diverse society like ours can exist only if we all tolerate people who disagree with us.” I agree with him: that’s the reason that all people should be served, not just some of them. The law should not make some of the people superior to others.

In the next week, religious zealots will try to flex their muscles of superiority because of the marriage equality arguments before the Supreme Court. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and Family Talk Radio, talks about a second “Civil War,” and Rick Scarborough, Vision America Action, compares his work to that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazis. Tony Perkins warns of a revolution. Objections to legalized marriage equality in a brief from a conservative religious coalition could be a Christian interpretation of the dreaded Sharia law.

“Should the court require the states and the people to ‘ritualize’ sodomite behavior by government issuance of a state marriage license, it could bring God’s judgment on the nation. Holy Scripture attests that homosexual behavior and other sexual perversions violate the law of the land, and when the land is ‘defiled,’ the people have been cast out of their homes.”

The brief relies heavily on Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 24-30. So much for separation of church and state. More ranting can be found here.

While the superiority toward minorities usually comes from white men, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has developed an unusual argument. In her brief, filed with James Bopp, Jr. and Carolyn McLarty, she argues that women should have to marry men because they have a “socializing effect” on men in marriage.

The three assert, “Marriage helps to focus a man’s energy and aggression to socially desirable ends, providing for and protecting wives and children, making their wives and children feel secure, happy, and loved.” Without the need to support a family men probably wouldn’t even work and would certainly have numerous sexual partners without a women.

The brief continues, “Women are more likely than men to initiate divorce because of their different emotional makeup. The complementary, tempering effect of the opposite sex is simply not present in same-sex marriages.”

Because men are too promiscuous and women are too emotional for successful long-term relationships, “the government has no obligation to recognize or promote same-sex marriage.” That’s Blackburn’s argument for forcing both men and women into opposite-sex marriage.

I give the top award for bizarre arguments against same-sex marriage to the man who claims 100 “scholars” blame 900,000 abortions on legalized marriage equality. The twisted logic posits that marriage equality will make opposite-sex couples think that marriage has lost its meaning. They will then not get married. Few marriages lead to unmarried sex which leads to pregnancies out of wedlock which creates more unwanted pregnancies which causes—are you with me?—900,000 abortions. Gene Schaerr used this argument in his amicus brief although he freely admits that he doesn’t see a cause and effect in his “reasoning.” The lawyer who failed in Utah’s case against marriage equality, Gene Schaerr was once a clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia.

The question during the next few months is whether the Supreme Court will have enough men needing superiority to deny equal marriage rights to LGBT couples.

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