Nel's New Day

December 5, 2017

Has the Supreme Court Ever ‘Given Protection to Food’?

Couples denied the benefits of legal marriage in the United States cheered when the Supreme Court invalidated discrimination against them in US v. Windsor (2013) and later Obergefell v. Hodges (2015). The current set of justices is now eliminating rights for married same-gender couples. Yesterday, the majority of justices refused to hear an appeal from the Texas Supreme Court that decided lesbian and gay spouses do not deserve government-subsidized workplace benefits in Houston. In Pidgeon v. Parker, the state’s high court concluded that Obergefell may have granted the right for same-sex marriage, but the federal decision “did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.” In Texas, marriage equality is legal, but married same-gender couples won’t get the same rights as married straight couples.

That Supreme Court non-decision was made the day before it heard arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Division, a case in which a baker was sued because he refused to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception after they legally married out of state. The lawsuit is based on Colorado law declaring that businesses cannot deny goods or services to someone due to their disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry. Colorado agreed with the gay couple that the baker was discriminating against them with his refusal to make them a cake because they are gay.

In another Colorado case, a baker refused to create a cake with homophobic bible messages but offered to sell him a Bible-shaped cake and an icing bag so that he could decorate it himself. The commission disagreed with the complaint against her because the refusal was based on the message and not the religion. The Masterpiece baker refused to the sale because of the users; he didn’t even ask if the cake would have any written “speech.”

Although “religious belief” seems to be an integral part of the case, the baker is not using the First Amendment’s recognition of freedom of religion. Instead the case is based on “free speech,” in this situation the claim that decorating a cake is an art and therefore represents free speech.

As in earlier cases about LGBTQ rights, the questions—and sometimes answers—would have been humorous if they didn’t pertain to the serious issue of government-sanction discrimination. Elena Kagan asked the baker’s lawyer if religious beliefs are a reason for hairstylists or make-up artists to refuse services for a same-gender wedding. The lawyer said no because these activities are not about “speech.” Kagan retorted that “some people might say that about cakes.” The justice was even more incredulous about the lawyer’s statement that “the tailor is not engaged in speech, nor is the chef.” Kagan asked, “Woah, the baker is engaged in speech, but the chef is not engaged in speech?”

Sonia Sotomayor asked the baker’s lawyer if the high court had ever “given protection to a food” and noted that “the primary purpose of a food of any kind is to be eaten.” She continued, “There are sandwich artists now. There are people who create beauty in what they make, but we still don’t call it expressive and entitled to First Amendment protection.” Sotomayor suggested a functional test to determine where objects to be used or consumed wouldn’t be considered expressive enough to warrant First Amendment protection.

Samuel Alito dug the hole deeper in an innocent question about the protection of architectural designs based on speech. The lawyer again said it would not be, and Stephen Breyer indicated surprise at her answer:

“So in other words, Mies [Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-American architect] or Michelangelo is not protected when he creates the Laurentian steps, but this cake baker is protected when he creates the cake without any message on it for a wedding? Now, that really does baffle me, I have to say.”

As in most Supreme Court cases, three conservative justices—Chief Justice John Roberts, Alito, and Neil Gorsuch—oppose civil rights with Clarence Thomas a complicit silent fourth.  Anthony Kennedy is firmly in the middle, and questions from the remaining four indicate an understanding of the issue.

People who suffer from privilege continue to demonstrate their lack of understanding regarding the humiliation of discrimination. In his column, conservative George Will almost seemed to be sensitive to the issue when he wrote about the limits of free speech and cited the black protests of “sit-ins” leading up to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Yet he finished by lambasting the gay couple for not just going to another baker who would prepare the cake. Yet Will said nothing about the blacks just going to another place where they could get served.

From his pedestal, white straight conservative male David Brooks wrote, “It’s just a cake. It’s not like they were being denied a home or a job, or a wedding. A cake looks good in magazines, but it’s not an important thing in a marriage.”

Kennedy told Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the representative from the homophobic DOJ supporting the baker, that the baker, if he won, could just put up a sign stating that he would not back wedding cakes for same-gender couples. That would be “an affront to the gay community,” Kennedy explained to Francisco. Visual signs   Kennedy also rejected the argument that the baker’s denial was based on the couple’s identity and not objections to marriage equality. He also accused the Colorado Civil Rights Commission of being “neither tolerant, nor respectful of Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

A group of faith leaders has written:

“Our objective is to spread hope and love to all people, including gay and transgender people, which is why we are deeply troubled by those who continually use religion as an excuse for discrimination against LGBTQ people—or any group of people…. We want to state loud and clear that religion should never be used to harm, hurt or deny service to anyone in the public square.”

By accepting the baker’s arguments, the Supreme Court can create a giant sinkhole for civil rights laws for all other categories including sex, race, and religion. Even with five votes in favor of the baker produces the dilemma of drawing a line respecting religious beliefs without, as Breyer said, “creating chaos.” If the baker wins a free speech argument in the highest court for his “art,” anyone can refuse service to any minority group by claiming free speech rights. The basis of the baker’s argument is that laws protecting the civil rights of marginalized groups can violate free-speech rights of those who refuse to serve them. A court ruling against LGBTQ people only would single out that group for legal discrimination while protecting other classes of people. There would not be a legislative fix for such a constitutional right to discriminate.

The baker’s attorneys acknowledge that their win could allow a baker to refuse service to an interracial couple, an argument supposedly settled almost 50 years in another Supreme Court case, Newman v. Piggie Park. The owner of a South Carolina barbecue chain claimed that the Civil Rights Act “contravene[d] the will of God” and infringed on his right to the free exercise of religion, because his beliefs “compel him to oppose any integration of the races.” In a brief 1968 ruling, the Supreme Court called his claims “patently frivolous.”

Justices could also send the case back to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission requiring it to be more tolerant to the baker’s religious beliefs or write the decision to apply only to Colorado law.

A ruling in favor of the gay couple would merely preserve current nondiscrimination laws, unavailable in most states.

However the court decides, the decision will probably not be announced until next June, the month of wedding cakes. Reasonable people can hope that at least five justices will agree with Sotomayor’s conclusion:

“If you want to be a part of our community, of our civic community, there’s certain behavior, conduct you can’t engage in. And that includes not selling products that you sell to everyone else to people simply because of either their race, religion, national origin, gender, and in this case sexual orientation. So we can’t legislate civility and rudeness, but we can and have permitted it as a compelling state interest legislating behavior.”

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October 23, 2017

The Dying Constitution

Filed under: Constitution — trp2011 @ 10:19 PM
Tags: , , ,

Regarding the First Amendment, Washington Post provided a look of surveys about freedoms that people have long taken for granted. The First Amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

An annual survey published last month by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center:

  • 37 percent of Americans cannot name even one of the five rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.
  • Half of those surveyed named freedom of speech but no others.
  • Only 26 percent of respondents could name the three branches of government, down from 38 percent in 2011.
  • 39 percent support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security.
  • Only 49 percent oppose this prior restraints, down from 55 percent last year.

Repetition makes false information sink into some people’s brains. According to a Politico-Morning Consult Poll:

  • 46 percent of registered voters believe major news organizations fabricate stories about him.
  • Only 37 percent of Americans think the mainstream media does not invent stories, while the rest are undecided.
  • Over 75 percent of Republicans believe reporters make up stories about Trump.
  • 28 percent of people want the federal government to have the ability to revoke the broadcast licenses of major news organizations if it says they are fabricating news stories about the president or the administration. (Only 51 percent think the government should not be able to do that.)
  • 46 percent of Republicans think the government should have the power to revoke licenses if it says stories are false. (They should be careful what they wish if a law like this can revoke Fox’s license.)

A national survey conducted by the Newseum Institute in May:

  • 23 percent think the First Amendment “goes too far.”
  • 74 percent do not think “fake news” should be protected by the First Amendment.
  • 43 percent of respondents felt that colleges should have the right to ban controversial campus speakers.
  • Only 59 percent believe that religious freedom should apply to all religious groups. Among those between the ages of 18 to 29, just 49 percent support equal protection for all religious faiths, compared to over 60 percent for every other age group.

An online survey of 1,500 undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities in the last week by Brookings senior fellow John Villasenor:

  • Only 39 percent of respondents said that the First Amendment protects “hate speech,” while 44 percent said it does not.
  • 62 percent had the mistaken belief that, under the First Amendment, an on-campus organization hosting an “offensive” speaker is legally required to ensure that there is also a speaker who presents an opposing viewpoint.
  • 19 percent said it is acceptable for a student group to use violence to prevent a guest speaker it opposes from appearing on campus.

A Pew Research Center study from 2015:

  • 40 percent of millennials accept the government preventing people from making unspecified statements that are “offensive to minority groups.”

YouGov poll for the libertarian Cato Institute, released two weeks ago:

  • 40 percent of people think government should prevent people from engaging in hate speech.
  • 46 percent would support a law making it illegal to say offensive things about African Americans.
  • 41 percent would ban insults for Jews.
  • 40 percent would ban insults for immigrants and military-service members.
  • 39 percent would ban insults for Hispanics.
  • 37 percent would ban insults for Muslims.
  • 36 percent would ban insults for LGBTQ people.
  • 35 percent would ban insults for Christians.
  • 51 percent of Democrats would favor a law “requiring people to refer to a transgender person by their preferred gender pronouns and not according to their biological sex.”

Republicans wave the Constitution in front of people just as they do the flag, but they don’t necessarily follow it. More from the Cato Institute:

  • 36 percent of Republicans would support prohibiting offensive public statements aimed at the police.
  • 72 percent of Republicans want a law to punish people for burning or desecrating the U.S. flag.
  • 53 percent of Republicans favor “stripping a person of their U.S. citizenship if they burn the American flag.”
  • 67 percent of Republicans favor a law to “prohibit face coverings in public spaces.”
  • Almost 50 percent of Republicans would ban the construction of mosques in their community.
  • 50 percent of Republicans say the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants.
  • 63 percent of Republicans say  journalists are “an enemy of the American people.”
  • 72 percent of Republicans in the poll said that colleges and universities are not doing enough “to teach young Americans about the value of free speech.”
  • 90 percent of Republicans think political correctness is “a big problem this country has.”

James Hohmann wrote “why these numbers matter”:

“If we lose the confidence that good ideas will overtake bad ones in the marketplace of ideas, if we lose the sense that we may disagree with offensive comments our neighbors say but we’ll defend to the death their right to say them and if we lose the willingness to honestly debate hard issues, then the United States will keep becoming more tribal and, eventually, less free.”

In a 1945 essay, George Orwell wrote:

“If large numbers of people believe in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it. But if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be prosecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), said:

 “The First Amendment is the beating heart of the American experiment, and you don’t get to separate the freedoms that are in there. You don’t have religion without assembly. You don’t have speech without press. We all need to celebrate all five of those freedoms, because that’s how the ‘e pluribus unum’ stuff works.”

A First Amendment debate arose over the right of athletes to kneel during the national anthem. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) told the NFL to fire their employees if they did this. DDT may himself be violating the First Amendment if his purpose is to suppress citizen speech. In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled in Bantam Books, Inc. v. Rhode Island that ruled that a Rhode Island commission was engaging in “state censorship.” The purpose of DDT’s verbal campaign has been to suppress speech that offends him.

Merely offensive speech cannot be censored according to a 1989 Supreme Court case protecting flag burning. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. wrote:

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Robert Post, Sterling professor at Yale Law School, wrote that DDT’s statements were worse than the Rhode Island’s commission because he is trying to stop “political speech protesting law enforcement’s unfair treatment of minorities.” Using the power of his office, he is threatening NFL owners with paying additional taxes if their athletes continue behavior that offends him. Even if DDT doesn’t take action, a “reasonable” belief that he is using the government to repress speech can still violate the First Amendment.

DDT has sworn an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” A vital part of the Constitution is democratic self-government by “We the people.” “Attacks on the political speech of private citizens … undermines integrity of “We the people.” Divisiveness destroys stability which leads to constitutional failure. Loss of the Constitution means loss of democracy as DDT leads the nation toward authoritarianism.

August 9, 2017

Washington Subway Bans Constitution

Should a government entity be required to obey the U.S. Constitution? That’s the question raised by the ACLU after the tax-supported Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) refused its paid ad that quoted the First Amendment. WMATA claims that it restricts “controversial” advertising and turned down ads from Carafem, a healthcare network that provides access to birth control and medication abortion; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); and Milo Worldwide LLC, the corporate entity of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

To communicate support for Muslims (freedom of religion) and the media (freedom of the press), ACLU put up ads in Arabic, English, and Spanish that simply cited the First Amendment.

WMATA refused the ACLU because of its policy forbidding advertisements “intended to influence members of the public regarding an issue on which there are varying opinions” or “intended to influence public policy.” The tax-aid transit accepts beer (no problem with alcoholism), mink coats, Coke-or-Pepsi jokes, etc.—no “varying opinions” there. The PETA ad showed a pig with the text, “I’m ME, Not MEAT. See the individual. Go Vegan.” WMATA has several ads asking their riders to eat animal-based food, wear clothing from animals parts, and attend circus performances. It did suggest that they might run the PETA ad with the removal of “Go Vegan.” To ACLU, WMATA stated, “You’ll have to dramatically change your creative.”

Ads for Milo Worldwide LLC were initially accepted. The author of Dangerous brands feminism a cancer, proposes that transgender people have psychological problems, and compares Black Lives activists to KKK. His ads showed Milo Yiannopoulos’ face, a suggestions that his new book be ordered, and one of four quotations from his reviews: “The most hated man on the Internet” (Nation); “The ultimate troll” (Fusion); “The Kanye West of Journalism” (Red Alert Politics); and “Internet Supervillain” (Out Magazine). In contrast to his writings and speeches, the ads didn’t appear to influence except for selling the book. The ads stayed for 10 days until WMATA got complaints.

These ads—including the First Amendment—were considered “controversial,” but those from gambling casinos, military contractors, and internet sex apps weren’t. PETA was rejected, but a restaurant dish “PORKADISE FOUND” was advertised. The same for a rejection of Yiannopoulos’ book while advertising movie ads of four women drooling over a male stripper.

ACLU’s lawsuit requests that the court declare parts of WMATA’s advertising guidelines unconstitutional because they violate free speech rights and are unconstitutionally vague. Although disagreeing with Yiannopoulos’ viewpoints, the organization also filed a motion on behalf of Milo Worldwide LLC for restitution of loss of revenue by the wrongful removal of advertisements for his book.

Arthur Spitzer, the legal director for the ACLU in Washington, stated:

 “The First Amendment protects the speech of everyone from discriminatory government censorship, whether you agree with the message or not.

For the better part of a century, the Supreme Court has wobbled back and forth on the exemption of “commercial speech” from the First Amendment. But to prevent the First Amendment as an advertisement? This is not freedom of speech!

January 29, 2017

Protesters Gather over Muslim Ban

Filed under: Donald Trump,Religion — trp2011 @ 8:44 PM
Tags: , , , ,

protest-boston-copley-squareThe women’s march was only a week ago, and now thousands of protesters, such as the ones in Boston’s Copley Square above, have gathered in opposition to President Donald Trump’s (PDT) ban on Muslims coming into the United States. PDT’s order, written by white supremacist Steve Bannon, bars all refugees from entering the U.S. for 120 days and all Muslims from seven Middle East countries for 90 days. Although PDT staffer Reince Priebus denied on Meet the Press that the ban is also on legal U.S. residents who hold green cards, these people have also been retained. The order states that they will need a case-by-case waiver to enter the country. Especially notable about the order is that is poorly written and was not vetted by any legal members of the PDT administration.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, called the ban “a dark moment in U.S. history,” citing the need for suffering people to save their lives by seeking refuge. Cupich wrote:

“The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values. These actions give aid and comfort to those who would destroy our way of life. They lower our estimation in the eyes of the many peoples who want to know America as a defender of human rights and religious liberty, not a nation that targets religious populations and then shuts its doors on them.”

PDT has denied that his ban has anything to do with religion:

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion.”

trumpYet PDT’s order clearly identifies that refugee claims are for “religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.” All seven countries’ majority religion is Islam; thus the ban clearly favors Christian refugees and violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment prohibiting one religion over another. Equal protection is also covered in the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. PDT is following his campaign promise of calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” and his admission that he would pretend the ban would be a neutral immigration restriction. Another argument for overturning PDT’s ban is the violation of a federal law forbidding discrimination based on national origin in the immigration system.

Within the first 23 hours of the ban, at least 375 people were impacted before U.S. District Court judge Ann M. Donnelly of Brooklyn issued an emergency order last night, halting the deportations. The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of those banned, which Donnelly said is likely to succeed when a full trial is held in several weeks. Several other federal courts also issued similar stays. Rulings in four other cities are limited to those already at U.S. airports or in transit, not to the legality of PDT’s ban.

A federal judge ordered the DHS to allow an Iranian man holding a U.S. visa to return to California from Dubai where he was awaiting removal to Iran. Judge Dolly Gee found that PDT’s ban “violates the Establishment Clause, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and his rights to Equal Protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Yet many people are still in airport detention. After issuing the ban, PDT provided no guidance to airports or airlines about actions, other than confirming that the ban will not be lifted. Canadian Prime Minister has offered to take any refugees holding green cards who are banned in the U.S.

PDT counselor Kellyanne Conway, promoter of PDT’s “alternative facts” on Meet the Press a week ago, hid on the Fox network today and still had a meltdown about the horrible press that prints information about the new president. Describing reporters, she said:

“We turn the other cheek. If you are part of team Trump, you walk around with these gaping, seeping wounds every single day…. I’m here every Sunday morning. I haven’t slept in a month.”

[Turn the other cheek? Gaping wounds? A comparison to Jesus?]

Conway was fortunate in her interview: Chris Wallace failed to point out that the ban most likely violates international treaties, federal statutes, and the U.S. Constitution. Yet she couldn’t even handle that situation.

Arguments from the PDT team are that the ban promotes safety at the cost of a small convenience. But bans on the basis of nationality or religion can be disastrous to national security. It can undermine efforts of security agencies and erode relationships necessary to fight terror.  Iran has already accused Congress of violating its agreement after lawmakers put new sanctions on the country last month. The ban will accelerate hostilities in a fragile relationship: Iran’s Foreign Ministry has called PDT’s order “an insult to the Islamic world, and especially to the great nation of Iran.” According to the statement:

“The decision of the Government of the United States incorporates certain requests that are illegal, illogical, and contrary to international law. The Islamic Republic of Iran will carefully examine and legally pursue any negligence or violation of the international obligations of the United States under bilateral and multilateral agreements and reserves the right to respond as necessary.”

A Bipartisan Policy Center report pointed out that the result can be reciprocal bans against U.S. citizens and commerce, costing the nation billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. The Iraqi parliament is already contemplating a block on visas for people from the U.S. who want to travel to the country.

Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich called the immigration “ham-handed” because it “sowed so much confusion” among international travelers and “sent a message that somehow the United States was looking sideways at Muslims.” He added, “In probably many Arab capitals today, people are like, ‘What is America doing?’ ”

Showing that public outcry can be effective, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly issued a blanket waiver to immigrants holding green cards or entitled to permanent residence in the U.S., allowing them to enter the country, despite President Trump’s new executive order. But the damage to the nation’s reputation is already done. There’s no going back. World War III, anyone?

June 29, 2014

Corporations Demand Religious Rights of ‘Persons’

Tomorrow, the last day of June, will surely bring a Supreme Court ruling  in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, deciding whether a for-profit corporation that is calling itself religious (as in a person) must follow federal law in permitting its insurance to provide contraception. The Court is also hearing Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, that’s fighting the same law as Hobby Lobby.  that hold the same position as Hobby Lobby.

Only some religious groups are considered exempt from this law. Hobby Lobby wants to change this.

The case addresses the question about whether one person’s “religious freedom” allows them exemption from the law and allows them to impose their religious beliefs on employees. If SCOTS favors Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities, the ramifications go far beyond allowing all employers to determine the health care for employees who pay for their insurance as part of a benefits package. All for-profit businesses could use the excuse of religion to ignore all government laws in their treatment of employees, i.e no psychiatry from Scientologist-owned businesses and no surgical coverage from Jehovah Witnesses.

Owners of Hobby Lobby, the Green family, are praying for freedom to make the United States a theocracy, obliterating any line between church and state. Success for the Greens would make the United States controlled by religious policy. The Greens plan to create museums, broadcasts, and public school curriculum presenting the Bible as fact and return to biblical principles in all public matters.

Conservatives like the Greens define the First Amendment mandate of religious freedom as imposing their code on those who don’t follow their faith. They have created a narrative in which they are persecuted for their faith, causing them to feel justified in repressing others under the excuse that they are only protecting themselves.

To fundamentalist Christians, religious freedom is forcing students to pray to their god in school and listen to bible stories in biology class. Teaching creationism in public schools uses taxpayer money to push one religious form of instruction on a captive audience, but conservatives reframe the argument to maintain that teaching evolution theory, a scientific fact, is religious oppression.

Funding the Hobby Lobby case is the Becket Fund, founded to protect the personal expression of religion without coercing others. the group started by protecting prisoners who wanted to have religious symbols and workers who  wanted to keep their religious hairstyles. Now the Becket Fund takes the position that religious freedom is denying employees the private use of their compensation packages.

An example of conservative “religious freedom” comes from a U.S. House candidate in Georgia. Jody Hice believes that Muslims have freedom of religion by denying that Islam is a religion. In his book, It’s Now or Never, Hice wrote: “Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology. It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

Justice Antonin Scalia has already ruled against religion in Employment Division v. Smith. When two Native Americans were denied unemployment benefits for having ingested peyote in keeping with their religious practices, Scalia wrote, “To permit this, would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” Now he claims that the constitution favors religion.

The Supreme Court has already given “personhood” to corporations in First Amendment rights of free speech through unlimited donations. Through “negative free speech rights,” corporations avoided requirements for warning labels on products. That’s why cigarette companies don’t have to put photos on warning labels, the dairy industry can conceal the use of bovine growth hormones in milk production, and cell phones don’t have to have radiation warnings.

The D.C. Court of Appeals struck down a Securities and Exchange Commission rule forcing manufacturers’ disclosures if their electronics contain minerals mined from the war-torn torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The American Meat Institute is arguing against a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that requires labeling disclosing where cows are born, raised, and slaughtered. After Vermont passed a GMO labeling requirement, industry groups sued on a violation of commercial speech rights.

In the Greens’ blatant hypocrisy, Hobby Lobby provided contraception in their employer-sponsored health plans until 2012 when they decided to sue. The company’s retirement plan also includes stock holdings in companies that manufacture drugs and devices that they don’t want their employees to access through insurance plans.

Not all non-profit groups, including many Catholic schools and hospitals, receive these exemptions, and even those that receive exemptions are displeased with the method of avoiding the mandate. Last year, the Little Sisters of the Poor contended that signing a form avoiding providing employee contraceptive coverage makes the nuns responsible for such coverage. The Supreme Court ruled that they could just send in a letter stating their objections while waiting for the case to be heard by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Both the Eternal Word Television Network in Alabama and the Catholic groups in Wyoming want the same arrangement. In addition, the TV station wants the Supreme Court to hear its case before the 7th Circuit Court rules on its appeal.

There may be a schism in the justices’ attitudes toward freedom of religion cases. Recently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of parents opposed to holding Elmbrook School District graduation ceremonies in a church, complete with overt displays of Christian faith and staffed tables about the church and its activities. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas strongly lobbied for the Court to hear the case and then wrote a seven-page dissent disagreeing with the seven who decided not to hear the case.

Earlier this year, SCOTUS, in 5-4 vote, agreed to allow Greece (NY) to pray before city council meetings because it was merely “ceremonial,” like saying “Bless you” after someone sneezes. Leading the dissent for Greece v. Galloway,Justice Kagan wrote:

“I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality—the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”

After the justices allowed religious prayers at a public meeting, the Huntsville (AL) City Council refused to allow a practicing Wiccan to give the opening invocation. Wilkes-Barre (PA) chooses only Christian prayers to open their city council meetings because all the members identify as Christians. Other municipalities are trying to establish policies that all prayers before council and commissioner meetings will be Christian.

The latest imposition of Christian religion on the entire population of the United States is the unanimous consent of a bill to put a Christian prayer on the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. There was no floor debate and no official vote, only the opportunity to register objections. When the House considered the bill in 2011, Robert Abbey, former director of the Bureau of Land Management, gave written testimony in opposition:

“It is not a judgment as to the merit of this new commemoration, simply that altering the Memorial in this way . . . will necessarily dilute this elegant memorial’s central message and its ability to clearly convey that message to move, educate, and inspire its many visitors.”

The U.S. National Park Service says the memorial commemorates “service, sacrifice, unity, and victory.” With the addition of a Christian prayer, they will have to drop the “unity.”

When one group of people demands the government replace the religious beliefs of others with its own, religious freedom is not protected but threatened. Jefferson’s wall separating church and state doesn’t just protect government from religion; it also protects religion from government. If religions can tell the state what to do, then the state can, in turn, tell religions what to do in their own houses of worship.

May 4, 2014

GOP Moves U.S. toward Theocracy

Last Thursday, the fundamentalist Christians got their chance to strut their stuff on Capital Hill as James Dodson, founder of the Focus on the Family, repeatedly called President Obama “the abortion president” during the ceremony on the National Day of Prayer. Part of his rationale, as he explained to Megyn Kelly on Fox network, is that he believes contraception to be equal to abortion. Two years ago, the Dodsons used the National Day of Prayer Task Force, established by George W. Bush, to pray that President Obama would lose the election.

Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) called Dodson’s speech a “10- or 15-minute rant against President Obama.” Fed up with his statements, she told him that his speech was “completely inappropriate for this day.” and walked out. Hahn is the co-chair of the weekly congressional prayer breakfast.

Four of Iowa’s GOP candidates for U.S. Senate all want only judges—and that includes on the federal level—with a “biblical view” of justice, according to a debate organized by The Family Leader, a far-right religious group. One judge who follows the biblical directive can be found in Alabama. Only Christians are protected by the Constitution, according to Alabama’s Chief Justice Roy Moore at the Pastors for Life Luncheon:

“Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures. They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship. Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”

Moore gave custody of a child to an abusive man instead of the mother because she is a lesbian. He has already been removed from this position for using tax-payer money to install a 2.5 ton monument of the Ten Commandments outside the state’s supreme court building. Moore said that the monument should remind people “that in order to establish justice we must invoke ‘the favor and guidance of almighty God.’” It was removed only after U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled a fee of $5,000 every day until Moore complied. The other judges decided not to spend the money and had it taken down.

Alabama-Ten-Commandments-Monument

SatanA seven-foot statue of Satan in Oklahoma is still in limbo as the legislature can’t figure out what to do. Insisting on putting up a Ten Commandments monument outside the state Capitol in 2012, lawmakers had to agree that other religious monuments could also be placed there. The Satanic group has raised $30,000 and released a mock-up of the final statue.

Women have had the right to vote for fewer than 100 years in the United States, but history-revisionist David Barton thinks they don’t deserve the right. The Christian conservative who founded Wallbuilders, the organization to destroy separation of church and state, claims that society and culture is destroyed by women voting. His rationale is that husband and wife are “considered one” which means that they have only one vote—naturally by the husband. Could his reason be that women tend to lean toward the pro-family Democrats who support education, domestic violence/sexual assault laws, healthcare, equal pay, family planning, etc.?

One candidate for president has a good idea—capping CEOs’ and sports’ coaches’ pay at $300,000 a year, but his plans go south from there. Darrell Trigg also wants to form a new political party, the Christian Party, because it is God’s will that he will “be the next President of the United States of America.” In that way he can take the country back to Christian principles and lead millions to a personal relationship with God. Obviously that would require getting rid of the separation of Church and State and make Christianity the official religion. His platform includes forcing schools to teach the Bible and have prayer at the beginning and ending of every school day. Other controls over people are subject matter of TV shows and Internet content.

Oklahoma may have that curriculum even without Trigg. Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby, has provided an elective curriculum to the state’s Mustang School District this coming fall. Those public schools will teach “Museum of the Bible Curriculum”; Green hopes that his curriculum will be in hundreds of schools by 2016 and thousands by 2017. The Supreme Court thinks that the curriculum is just fine, according to Abington School District v. Schempp. Someday, Green said, teaching the Bible in high school “should be mandated.”

The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee has passed a measure mandating the teaching of creationism and sent it to the State Board of Education.

The way to get around the Constitutional block on teaching Christianity in public school is to get rid of them. That’s Ray Moore’s idea. The GOP candidate for South Carolina’s lieutenant governor wants all the state’s public schools replaced with those run by churches. His reason is that the Bible doesn’t advocate for public school education. According to Moore, public high schools are “the Pharaoh’s schools”; putting 25 to 35 percent of the public school children into the church-run schools would force South Carolina to dump its public education system.

Average cost for religious private school education is about $8,549 a year, but that issue didn’t enter into Moore’s plans. Ray Moore has company in Texas. The GOP lieutenant governor candidate Dan Patrick thinks that public schools there specialize in left-wing indoctrination.

After Georgia passed a law allowing guns anywhere except in the state Capitol, there is one place where people can be safe from weapons—Catholic and Episcopal churches. The law allows religious leaders to determine whether guns can be permitted in churches. These two denominations have decided that their churches are not the places for guns.

Most of the time, the disappearing veil between church and state benefits evangelical Christians who want to force the United States into become a theocracy. More sensible religious groups have argued that the First Amendment also protects religion in the U.S. When North Carolina passed Amendment 1 in 2012, one of the provisions was to fine ministers and put them in jail if they married anyone without a legal state marriage license.

North Carolina is the first state in the nation to criminalize clergy for their choices in expressing their religious faith. The law is so vague that even blessing a marriage could be considered a criminal act. The United Church of Christ (UCC) church, founded in North Carolina in 1748 and with over 150 congregations in the state, is suing for its religious rights. Three UCC ministers have been joined by two Unitarian Universalist clergy, one Lutheran pastor, one Baptist minister, and one rabbi as plaintiffs in the case that includes eight couples they seek to marry.

sarah palin

In an act once thought to be impossible, Sarah Palin has gone too far in her vicious rhetoric. She was rewarded by a cheering crowd at the NRA/NRAAM annual meeting when she said, “If I were in charge, they would know that water-boarding is how we baptize terrorists.” However, Faithful America, an organization founded to combat the hatred and violence from far-right Christians, started a petition in opposition to Palin’s message:

“This is what we’ve come to in America: A former candidate for vice-president can equate torture and Holy Baptism, and one of the nation’s most powerful political lobbies erupts into cheers and applause. As usual, Palin’s remarks are already making international headlines, once again portraying Christianity as a religion of hatred and violence. But this time, let’s show just how many Christians are appalled by Palin’s twisted misrepresentation of our faith.”

Even conservative Christians are shocked—shocked, I tell you—that a Christian would endorse torture as a Christian method of punishment. They skipped the chapters in history about Christians burning heretics and Jews during the Inquisition, destroying Native American religion, and whipping slaves to evangelize them in not-so-long past in the South.

I guess we’re lucky that Sarah Palin isn’t in charge. And let’s do something before the country becomes the United States of a Vengeful Christian God. In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt citied four freedoms: freedom of speech and expression; freedom to worship as the person prefers; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. Let’s regain these freedoms.

March 23, 2014

Religion Tied to Contraception, Missing Aircraft, Teaching, Parades

Two big religious stories are in the news this week. One is the question of whether private businesses who declare themselves as “religious persons” have the right to deny employees equal health care to that from other businesses. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga maintain that they shouldn’t have to allow their insurance to cover free contraception because they are opposed to contraception. The case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The 2,000 sisters of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) oppose the denial of contraception. Their position is that any group denying contraception in insurance is equivalent to holding women hostage.

In support of the Affordable Care Act provision that mandates birth control coverage, NCAN wrote:

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives.”

Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, said:

“This has gotten out of hand. It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women… It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

The nuns aren’t just writing about the problem. They are circulating an online petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and holding a Faith Rally in front of the Supreme Court building on March 25. The petition states:  “The sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families.” Fourteen religious denominations support free access to birth control as well as the women who are not affiliated with religions.

The second issue is the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.CNN and Fox are determined to connect the disaster with religious beliefs. CNN’s anchor Don Lemon has possible answers for the disappearance. One was a “supernatural” event in which God took it (maybe that it like the rapture! Another was the possibility of a “black hole.”

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter, blogged that this disappearance is a “small snapshot” of what will happen with the Rapture when millions of Christians miraculously disappear. At least, CNN didn’t use this “information” as “news.”

Fox “News” Bill Hemmer used historic comparisons to discuss the long time it may take to find the aircraft. “It took us what 100 years to find the Titanic? It took us 2,000 years to find Noah’s Ark. Do we ever find Flight 370?” The first is true; the second highly questionable and totally inappropriate when announcing the news. Joe Coscarelli explained that Hemmer was referring to Evangelical Christian explorers, who claimed to have uncovered evidence of the boat’s existence—claims determined to be a hoax even by Fox News.

Bill Maher gave his own version of Noah’s Ark, calling God a “psychotic mass murderer” and the United States a “stupid country” for their belief that the biblical story is factual. Fundamental Christians took offense. Bryan Fischer argued that the story of Noah’s Ark is true and shows human free will choices that forced God to kill very living thing. Maher can say these things and live, said Fischer, because God is merciful, compassionate, and loving. God is patiently giving Maher a chance to repent and ask forgiveness, according to Fischer.

Other people who accept myths as facts are incensed about Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the television sequel to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted and narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The creationist Answers in Genesis complained that Cosmos is not balanced because it doesn’t give airtime for creationism. Cosmos covers a wide range of scientific topics from Earth’s place in the universe to the origin of life. Tyson explained his concept of scientific balance: “You don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

A Buddhist student and his parents have won a lawsuit against Negreet High School in Louisiana after the court found that the school violated the student’s religious liberty. According to the decision, sixth-grade science teacher Rita Roark violated the First Amendment when she demanded biblical answers from science questions and called the student “stupid” because he didn’t know religious answers to questions such as the age of the earth. She also maintained in class that evolution is a “stupid theory made up by stupid people who don’t want to believe in God.” When the student’s parents complained, Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebab told them to change their faith to fit “the Bible Belt” or go to another school where “there are more Asians.”

Louisiana District Judge Elizabeth Foote ordered the school to remove all of the Christian propaganda—pictures of Jesus, posters, Bible verses, official prayers, etc.  from the premises. School officials cannot initiate prayers, use class work to promote religion, sponsor a religious belief, or hold religious services at the school. Students are still permitted to pray in school and participate in religious clubs. Further:

“The District and School Board are permanently enjoined from permitting School Officials at any school within the School District to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or during or in conjunction with a School Event… School Officials shall not denigrate any particular faith, or lack thereof, or single out any student for disfavor or criticism because of his or her particular faith or religious belief, or lack thereof.”

The ruling demanded that the school pay $4,000 in damages to the student’s parents as well as $40,000 in court costs, a large sum for a school of a little over 500 in a district with about 4,300 students.

In another story from Louisiana, Randy Dill wants to see the Holy Bible made the “official state book,” and he persuaded Rep. Thomas Carmody to file a bill that would make this law. They both think they can succeed because the bible is Alabama’s state bible. Do I sense more lawsuits?

Murfreesboro (TN) has already spent $343,000 in a losing lawsuit to keep the Muslims from building a mosque. Now plaintiffs have gone back to court to stop the “construction and improvement of the cemetery.” The ad at the top of the article reads: “Nobody cares for you like a neighbor.”

Parade bigots who refuse to let LGBT people openly march could take a lesson from NYC Pride, the organization behind New York City’s gay pride parade. The Catholic League, led by bigot Bill Donohue applied for a float in this year’s parade with the banner, “Straight Is Great.” No problem, said the parade coordinators. “Straight is great—as long as there’s no hate.” As NYC Pride’s managing director, Chris Frederick, said:

“Straight allies are great. We have thousands of straight people participating in the Pride March, including Catholic groups, who support LGBT youth, families and married couples.”

Meanwhile Donohue has called on Catholics to boycott Guinness, Sam Adams, and Heineken because he thinks that the LGBT community bullied them to drop their sponsorship for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston. According to religious people, the First Amendment only works when it’s in their favor.

February 16, 2014

Schools, Law Push Religion on All

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/week-god-96?cid=eml_mra_20140215  The GOP loves to rant about the “nanny state” with its seat belts, child seats, and other protective laws. Now the same party wants parental notification not only abortions and birth control but also curriculum that includes the teaching of evolution. A new bill in Missouri would require schools to notify parents if “the theory of evolution by natural selection” was being taught at their child’s school and give them the opportunity to opt out of the class. Parents could pull their children out of biology classes if they disapproved.

Thus far, no state has a science parental-notification law. State Rep. Rick Brattin said that modern biology is based “as much faith and, you know, just as much pulled out of the air as, say, any religion.” He calls himself a “science enthusiast” and “a huge science buff.”  His bill would also require schools to “make all curriculum materials used in the district’s or school’s evolution instruction available for public inspection … prior to the use of such materials in actual instruction.”

Three other states—Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia—have also introduced anti-evolution legislation ranging from a “debate” over evolution versus creationism to mandate that intelligent design be included in biology curriculum.

Once religious lawmakers take over biology, they may move on to mathematics:

1175ckCOMIC-bible-math While Christians are trying to protect student from evolution, they don’t mind bullying them. In Lousiana’s Savine Parish, a teacher promoted her personal Christian beliefs by agreeing with students that a Buddhist student is “stupid” for not believing in God and encouraging his classmates to laugh at him. When the child’s stepfather complained, the superintendent pointed out that they were in the “Bible Belt” and that the child could either change his faith or go to another school where “there are more Asians.”The ACLU is suing the school board because of the abusive behavior toward the child.

The religiosity of the public school went beyond the teacher. A large picture of Jesus hangs over the school entrance, a Bible verse is on the electronic marquee, and religious images and messages are displayed throughout the school. Official prayers led by the principal or teachers are routinely in class and school events, and school officials distribute religious materials to students including the New Testament and cartoons that denounce evolution.

These public schools seems to be following the curriculum of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), founded over 40 years ago and claims to have  6,000 schools in 140 countries. These schools are supported by taxpayer funding because of the voucher system. In separate cubicles, students silently complete workbooks (PACEs) complete with cartoons.

Basic ACE premises:

Classrooms are segregated.

segregated

Girls dress modestly—very modestly.

modest

Young women perform only traditionally “feminine” activities.

feminine

Non-Christians are evil.

authority

People must blindly obey.

obey

Religion would also be strengthened in Alabama schools if conservative legislators have their way. A proposed bill would require public schools to use the first 15 minutes of the day to read a prayer presented in Congress. The description of the bill is “study of the formal procedures followed by U.S. Congress” which must include “a reading verbatim of one of the opening prayers” given at the opening of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. Almost all the chaplains of the U.S. House and Senate have been Protestant ministers. Last year one guest chaplain delivered a Muslim invocation. In 2007, a Hindu invocation elicited protests from Christian conservative groups.

 South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee legislators are joining Alabama lawmakers to “put prayer back in schools.”

One of the first bills to move out of the Arizona state Senate committee would permit religious discrimination against LGBT people. Senate Bill 1062, introduced by GOP Sen. Steve Yarbrough of Chandler, would extend the protection of the state’s free exercise of religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.” A corporation could refuse to hire anyone who wasn’t a Christian and block LGBT individuals from almost any business or service.

For many years, student victims of sexual abuse at Bob Jones University were encouraged not to report the crimes that looked bad for Christianity. The administration called victims liars and sinners. Many staff members and former students hoped the policy would be changed after the school hired a Christian consulting group two years ago to consider changes to the school’s policy.

The university has now fired the group with no warning or explanation just as it almost completed its investigation. University president and great-grandson of the school’s founder said that Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) “had begun going beyond the originally outlined intentions.”

GRACE, founded by Billy Graham’s grandson Basyle J. Tchividjian, includes lawyers and psychologists among its leaders and specializes in advising churches and other Christian organizations on addressing abuse. Although unaffiliated with any denomination, Bob Jones University follows a strict fundamentalism that believes Graham, Oral Roberts, and Jerry Falwell are too secular.

The Catholic World is still trying to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, but Notre Dame is having trouble with a three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. During a heated exchange, Judge Richard Posner told one of the school’s lawyers that he couldn’t continue his arguments if he kept interrupting and failing to answer the judge’s questions.

At one point, Posner asked attorney Matthew Kairis whether birth control was “a mortal or venial sin.” Notre Dame is appealing a lower court ruling that ordered the school to contract with third-party providers for contraception as part of health care coverage. Its third-party provider, Meritain Health, emphasized that Notre Dame was not the provider of contraception coverage. Another lawyer, Ayesha Khan, pointed out that Notre Dame didn’t object to the third-party provision until a conservative network of alumni called the Sycamore Trust protested.

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing two cases about for-profit companies claiming religious exemptions from allowing contraception coverage from third-party health care providers. In the cases of Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby Stores, Catholics for Choice joined 29 other faith-based organizations in filing an amicus brief opposing the two companies from imposing their religious beliefs on others.

Jon O’Brien wrote that the groups “show unequivocally that people of faith support contraceptive access and true religious liberty for all.” He added, “The Supreme Court must answer a critical question: will the religious liberty of women workers and female dependents be respected, or will employers be allowed to trample upon the consciences and lives of their employees?”

That answer will determine the direction of the United States in religious freedom for all, not just fundamentalist Christians.

April 14, 2013

GOP Wants Theocracy in the U.S.

Once again, the U.S. voters have shown their ignorance. According to an Omnibus Poll, sponsored by YouGov.com and the Huffington Post, 11 percent of adults in this country think that the Constitution permits the establishment of a state national religion, and another 31 percent don’t know. The same study shows that 32 percent of the people actually want a Constitutional amendment to make Christianity the official religion of the United States. Only 52 percent oppose this idea.

Those people supporting a theocracy based on the “Founding Fathers” don’t know that James Madison, “father of the U.S. Constitution,” wrote about the need for the separation of church and state in an 1822 letter to Edward Livingston:

“Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”  He continued, “We are teaching the world the great truth, that Governments do better without kings and nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson: the Religion flourishes in greater purity without, than with the aid of Government.”

Ironically, the same percentage of people who want Christianity as a national religion are also the only supporters of the GOP approach to social and cultural issues. That leaves the other two-thirds of the people opposing the policies that failed to get a GOP president and Senate in the latest election. So what’s the GOP to do?

Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus led the charge in rebranding Republicans, trying to move away from the Old Testament and toward greater success in next year’s election. The far-right groups are upset with the possibility that the GOP might change their position on social issues, especially marriage equality, and have threatened the GOP.

Thirteen high-profile conservatives representing influential groups wrote Priebus to rebuke him for his conclusions of the “autopsy” to determine the failure of the election. The letter concluded: “We respectfully warn GOP Leadership that an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support.”

Within the letter, the writers demanded a resolution to re-affirm the party’s 2012 national platform passed in Tampa (FL) and called for renewed bans on abortion and same-sex marriage. Nine of the 13 groups are 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations, legally prohibited from supporting political parties. The IRS might want to look into these groups

Tony Perkins, president of the right-wing Family Research Council, has called on his people to stop contributions to the GOP until it starts “defending core principles.”

At the meeting this last week, the RNC faithfully toed the Christian line, confirming its opposition to marriage equality and its support of “core values” adopted last summer, including the statement that the country’s “rights come from God.” They rejected the recommendations from the “autopsy” that Priebus announced last month.

A committee vote changed the policy that the winner of a state caucus or primary automatically gets to control its delegates, but a later vote of all 168 delegates to the meeting didn’t pass the change. The purpose of this policy, adopted last summer in Tampa (FL) before the GOP presidential convention, was to keep candidate Ron Paul from getting votes. Without a change, the policy will have the same effect on his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) if he makes a try for presidential candidate, keeping him from getting delegates.

The new GOP policy permits more states to award delegates on a winner-take-all basis instead of proportionally, decreasing the possibility of grassroots candidates to get any support at the convention. The “autopsy” recommended regional primaries, giving the advantage to more moderate candidates who can raise a great deal of money.

It’s hard to see what “core principles” that Republicans aren’t defending. States are working even harder to ban abortions and eliminate reproductive rights. In just the first quarter of 2013, states proposed 694 bills relating to women’s bodies—all of them punitive.

Arkansas alone wants to defund Planned Parenthood and any organization that has contracts with abortion providers or referrers, including power and water companies, health insurers, and medical suppliers. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the United States to be a place where no one even thinks about abortion.

State legislators are also proposing a plethora of bills to establish official state religions, eliminate sex education, and make sodomy illegal for everyone.

Perkins also wants the religious to keep their guns because the government may come after all those God-fearing, Bible-thumping evangelists. About the new gun legislation, which has almost no chance of passing, he wrote:

“I’m very concerned about this measure; I am concerned about where it may go once it gets to the Senate floor and what might happen in the House. This idea of background checks is very concerning given the fact that the United States military has been increasingly showing hostility toward evangelicals and Catholics as being somehow threats to national security and people that need to be watched.

“Well, what does that have to do with gun control? Well, what happens if all the sudden you are identified as an evangelical, bible-believing fundamentalist and the government decides you’ve got to be put on a watch list? Part of the provisions of this background check is kind of a system where if a caution comes up when they put your name in, you don’t get a chance to buy a gun.”

Meanwhile televangelist Pat Robertson is going after the country’s foreign policy. He thinks that Secretary of State John Kerry’s work on a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians violates Christianity,  warning that Kerry is “asking for the wrath of Almighty God to fall on this nation.”

Robertson also claimed that any deal including territorial concessions to the Palestinians, including Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, will lead to divine retribution and “catastrophic” consequences. “We should do everything we can to restrain our leaders from this course of folly and it is a course of folly and it will result in terrible suffering for people in the United States,” he said.

Every time that government entities meet, they should read the the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

June 11, 2012

North Dakota Religious Freedom Amendment – Marriage Equality?

“Government may not burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be burdened unless the government proves it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A burden includes indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities.” 

This is the measure that North Dakota voters decide on tomorrow. If passed, this measure would change the state constitution. Supporters maintain that they want to reinstate protections lost in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, a ruling that the First Amendment doesn’t let people break laws in the name of religion.

If passed, Measure 3 would let a pharmacist refuse HIV medication to LGBT patients because of a religious belief that homosexuality is wrong. Or let a nurse at a publicly funded hospital refuse to provide prenatal care to an unmarried pregnant women because of religious beliefs that premarital sex is wrong. On the other side, religious groups could use taxpayer funds for religious reasons while discriminating against some groups.

According to Robert Doody, executive director of the ACLU of the Dakotas, “this proposed amendment could lead people to refuse to follow virtually any law. It could allow people to argue that they have a right to abuse their children, refuse to hire people of different faiths, or deny emergency health care.

Alex J. Luchenister, Associate Legal Director for American’s United for Separation of State and Church wrote, “Measure 3 could force the state government to provide taxpayers funds to religious groups. It would also cause religious groups to be favored over non-religious groups. As a result of Measure 3 religious groups and persons could claim exemptions from laws intended to protect people’s rights, such as laws requiring the provision of reproductive health services or prohibiting the infusion of religion into public education.

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci J. Hamilton added that the North Dakota Religious Freedom Amendment is “an opportunity to unilaterally adjust public policy to fit each religious individual’s and organization’s world view.” 

Right now, government is burdening LGBT people’s religious liberty by stopping marriage equality. Does North Dakota intend that this measure will allow same-sex marriage? LGBT people who cannot get legally married face over 1,000 burdensome laws, many of which withhold benefits and assess penalties.

If North Dakota voters pass Measure 3, they had better be prepared for a multitude of court battles.

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