Nel's New Day

February 10, 2019

Constitutional Religious Freedom Restricted to Fundamentalist Christians

The U.S. Supreme Court just proved that “religious freedom” is only for Christians. In a 5-4 ruling (you can guess the names), Domineque Ray must die without his spiritual adviser available to give him comfort because he is a Muslim. Until this ruling, a cornerstone for the high court’s religion jurisprudence prevents the government from discriminating among faiths. Larson v. Valente (1981) determined that a Minnesota statute treating religious organizations differently violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The conservative members of the Supreme Court justified their vote by stating that Ray waited until ten days before his execution to ask for the presence of his iman. The prison warden did not deny Ray’s request to have his imam present until five days before the suit, a time when Ray went through the prison’s administrative channels for his request.

Even some conservatives disagree with this religious bigotry and agreed with Justice Elena Kagan who wrote:

“That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality.”

From Seth Mandel, executive editor of the Washington Examiner magazine:

“As a conservative who opposes both the death penalty and religious discrimination I find this story appalling.”

Southern Baptist minister Alan Cross tweeted:

“Every time we want the state to favor Christianity over other religions, the result is a loss of religious freedom for all.”

In another Christian-focused government action, at least six states are using the current administrative protectorate in an attempt to legislate Bible (aka Christian) classes in public schools. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) cheered on their efforts after seeing a segment on Fox & Friends. This practice was common in the 19th century but waned when the federal government took a greater part in public education in the 20th century. In McCollum v. Board of Education (1948), the Supreme Court sided with the First Amendment to declare that states cannot use public education to promote “religious faiths or sects.” Later, the ruling of Engel v. Vitale (1962) decreed that compulsory prayer in public schools violated the constitution. Now DDT is using the Bible, about which he is largely ignorant, to club non-conservatives over the head.

Franklin Graham, evangelist Billy Graham’s son, may have gone deaf: he said that he has never heard a lie out of DDT. DDT told at least 8,158 false or misleading claims in the two years after his inauguration. Perhaps Graham has a different sense of “objective truth,” that is “Jesus is the savior of the world and died for our sins.”

DDT does have a “spiritual adviser.” Paula White came to his reality TV show The Apprentice to pray over him, and they maintained a friendship as she became a popular televangelist. At the beginning of 2019, she asked people to send her money or face divine consequences. Her rationale for donating to her ministry was that of “first fruit,” that all firsts belong to God including the first month of a person’s salary. She said that if people didn’t donate, “I don’t know what you’re going to face.” In 2007, she was one of the subjects of Sen. Charles Grassley’s (R-IA) investigation into finances of ministries that solicit millions of dollars in donations.

In its move toward allowing laws that mandate Christian beliefs, the Supreme Court slashed reproductive rights for women in Hobby Lobby. Current Courts are now using “Justice” Clarence Thomas’ opinion in NIFLA v. Becerra, removing disclosure requirements for “crisis pregnancy centers” that block abortion, to attack laws preventing the torture and abuse of minors through “conversation therapy” that people falsely claim will make them cisgender instead of Q (sexual minority). With Thomas statement that “[free speech] is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals,” he has enshrined the position that the First Amendment protects all lies by “professionals.” In that way, the Supremes leads lower courts in their effort to strike down anti-conversion therapy laws in 15 states, 50 cities and counties, and Washington, D.C., laws supported by every mainstream medical association in the United States.

Conversion therapy is more horrific than most people can imagine. “Christian” therapists force naked children to touch their genitals while others watch, have “group cuddling sessions,” use a tennis racquet to beat effigies of their parents, and grab two oranges from the other side of a human chain while others hurl gay slurs at them. Some of the therapists are closeted gay men who force their male clients to kiss them. Conversion therapy can lead to suicide. At the very best, conversion therapy causes depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal,  substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources. Therapy cannot change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Almost five years ago,Thomas openly supported the ability of states to avoid the First Amendment freedom of religion and create a “state-mandated religion” in the 2014 Greece v. Galloway ruling permitting prayers at a city public meetings.

DDT’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is now echoing evangelical leaders who say that God picked DDT to sit in the Oval office. Satirist Andy Borowitz picked up on Sanders’ statements in “Did God Want Trump?” [Ivy Close Images/Alamy]

“Partially confirming Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s theory of divine intervention in the 2016 election, Eris, the Greek goddess of chaos, discord, and strife, revealed on Friday that she had wanted Donald J. Trump to be President.

“Speaking from her temple on Mt. Olympus, the usually reclusive deity said that Trump was ‘far and away’ her first choice to be President in 2016.

“’I’d been following his career for years,’ the goddess of disorder and ruin said. ‘The bankruptcies, the business failures. There was a lot for me to love.’

“She complained that the media had given Vladimir Putin ‘way too much credit’ for Trump’s ascent, asserting, ‘Who do you think made Putin President of Russia?’

“Looking ahead to the 2020 election, Eris said that she was officially undecided about which candidate to back for President, but that she was leaning toward Howard Schultz. ‘What a shit show that would be,’shesaid.

Has anyone else noticed the difficulty of identifying between satire and fact in the current climate?

The evangelicals may have an opponent in their support of conservatism and DDT. Like progressive Christians in the 19th century who fought to end slavery, some 21st-century Christian leaders are supporting immigration rights, universal health care, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights. The coalition Faith in Public life, with almost 50,000 members, is a part of these civil rights movements.

Tara Agnew Harris, member of Myers Park Baptist Church (Charlotte, NC), believes that “Jesus talked about reaching out to the poor, reaching out to the marginalized, reaching out to the oppressed.” She said that “traditional Christian beliefs have been hijacked,” that people connect it to “a certain fundamentalist mindset.” She acts on her faith by visiting a detention center for undocumented immigrants in Lumpkin (GA).

Jennifer Butler, Faith in Public Life leader and an ordained Presbyterian minister, said:

“There are over a hundred verses of Scripture that say we are to welcome immigrants and welcome strangers. Faith in Public Life] is driven by our moral values and not by politics.”

Despite a smaller base among liberal Christians, Butler cites an advantage in building bridges. Religion can also bring passion to a movement as in the case of William Barber, the black North Carolina preacher who started the “Moral Majority” movement. He calls himself “an evangelical Biblicist” for a nation in need of “moral defibrillators” to work on its weak heart:

“We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all!”

Since Russians have joined the evangelicals to take over the United States, democracy needs a way to fight against the fundamentalist conservatives. At the end of 2018, hackers discovered emails and documents from Russian officials, oligarchs’ confidants, and leaders in interference effort that revealed their connections with the Bradley Foundation, a primary financier of right-wing groups including anti-immigrant organizations. Its mission is “to restore, strengthen, and protect the principles and institutions of American exceptionalism.” In other words, to make America great again by taking away the rights of most people. Another Russian connection is with the Home School Legal Defense Association, the most influential right-wing homeschooling group in the United States. Another Russian goal with these groups is to support pro-Russian “separatists” in Ukraine so that Vladimir Putin can take over the country and move on to more of Europe. Part of their belief is also anti-Semitism and pro-fascism. Basically, the U.S. evangelicals are supporting the same philosophy that caused the rise of Adolf Hitler and led to World War II.

July 14, 2018

HHS Makes Excuses for Failure to Reunite Migrant Families

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) failed its deadline to reunite all 102 children under the age of five with their parents. Officials supposedly succeeded in only 38 cases by the deadline although that number cannot be confirmed. The government now maintains that half of the separated children under five years of age should not be reunited with their parents.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar claimed that the children are not being reunited because the adults are not their parents, but immigration lawyer Barbara Hines reported that many parents who have birth certificates and other documents proving parentage are denied their children. A dozen children were not united because their parents were voluntarily deported, but the parents have said that they were told they would get their children back if they signed papers to leave the country. One father said he didn’t understand the paperwork he signed to leave his child in the United States. Reports indicate that HHS is not searching for deported parents.

The next deadline is July 26—two weeks from now—when the remainder of the approximately 3,000 youth, many of them as young as five years old, must be returned to their parents. Judge Dana Sabraw repeated that her deadlines are firm—“not aspirational goals.” She has asked the ACLU to “submit a proposal for possible punishment.” Officials are facing an almost impossible task: they admitted that they didn’t set up any systems to reunify parents with children.

Azar said that the U.S. is acting “generously” toward these children torn from their parents with only a few returned after a court order. He said:

“It is one of the great acts of American generosity and charity, what we are doing for these unaccompanied kids who are smuggled into our country or come across illegally.”

He explained that “we could put children back with individuals who are murderers, kidnappers, rapists or are not their parents” and added that he “could release all of the kids by 10:55 p.m., but I don’t think you want that.” Azar ignored the fact that the government doesn’t know how to find many of the parents.

Politico is painting Azar as the victim in the fiasco by saying that the man who lacks records for parents of 3,000 separated children was “pilloried on cable TV” while “he’s working through a thicket of court orders and red tape.” Author Dan Diamond criticizes the debacle for taking Azar’s time “from other priorities, such as lowering drug costs and helping solve the opioid epidemic.” An HHS official said about Azar, “He didn’t want the job.” Diamond described Azar as “a proven problem-solver … at drug giant Eli Lilly.” At this time, Azar is escaping much criticism from the mercurial DDT because publicity has focused on DDT’s vendetta against Europe, but failure to return the rest of the children within the next few days will bring the subject back to the media forefront.

Azar is now allowing his agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to funnel funding into the reunification project from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which is intended to provide “a comprehensive system of care that includes primary medical care and essential support services for people living with HIV who are uninsured or underinsured.” He also took more from social services, medical assistance, and English language instructions for refugee resettlement. ORR, which had a $1.3 billion for the entire year is asking for an additional $1.3 billion for the last three months of 2018. The average stay of migrant minors in federal custody is now 55 days, with longer stays anticipated as ORR shifts away from its mission for short-term care to keeping children for much longer times.

Separating migrant children from their parents is great business for DDT’s donors who make $1 billion annually. Grants for shelters, foster care and other child welfare services for detained unaccompanied and separated children rose from $74.5 million in 2007 to $958 million in 2017. Over 11,800 children from a few months old to 17 years are kept in almost 90 facilities in 17 states. HHS requested bids in May of over $500 million for beds, foster and therapeutic care, and “secure care” (aka guards). which means employing guards. More contracts are expected to come up for bids in October.

The latest attack on immigrants is in the military that is discharging legal immigrants with no justification. For example, Panshu Zhao finished a graduate degree and is working on a doctorate in geography at Texas A&M. He joined the military under a special program promising a faster path to citizenship. After waiting for years to be cleared for duty and accepted, he like many others, has been declared ineligible to serve. While the Army has a shortage of recruits and farmers need workers, DDT is throwing out some of the best, keeping workers for himself. He’s getting another 78 immigrant workers for Mar-a-Lago. At three DDT properties in New York, only one of 144 jobs went to a U.S. worker; the remainder went to foreign guest workers.

Infants and toddlers must appear in immigration court to defend themselves. A one-year-old boy in federal custody whose father has already been returned to Honduras appeared in an Arizona court without parents. He drank from a bottle and “cried hysterically” before he left the courtroom before a judge overrode federal officials to send the baby back to his father. Officials argued that they shouldn’t be required to reunite children with deported parents. Judge John Richardson said he was “embarrassed to ask” the baby if he understood the proceedings, a DOJ requirement. Another boy held up five fingers when he was asked his age. These children cannot even see over the defense tables, and their feet don’t touch the floor.

Children have had to appear in courts located in California, Arizona, Texas, and Washington, D.C. The government is not required to provide legal representation to undocumented children and adults. A National Review column accused Michael Moore of lying about the situation when he said that these toddlers “cannot” have a lawyer. They “can” have a lawyer or adult; they are even permitted to ask for someone from a list of legal services organizations. Just imagine a three-year-old being given this list and then calling one of them.

In 2016, senior Department of Justice immigration Judge Jack Weil insisted in a federal court deposition that he can teach three- and four-year-olds to be knowledgeable about immigration law and represent themselves in court. He said,

“You can do a fair hearing. It’s going to take you a lot of time.”

[Employees throughout the nation are complaining that they cannot find trained workers. Weil might be able to teach three- and four-year-olds to fill these slots.]

Unable to reunite many of the kidnapped migrant children with their parents, DDT’s administration is threatening to resume the separation if parents in detention don’t waive their children’s right to release. A judge told DDT he couldn’t indefinitely detain children with parents awaiting deportation proceedings, because of the 1997 Flores legal settlement permitting children to be detained for no longer than 20 days. ICE doesn’t want to release families so they may continue to blackmail parents with the threat of separating them from their children if they don’t waive the child’s right for release. Separated children would then be classified as apprehended without their parents and put in HHS custody.

Paula White, chair of DDT’s Evangelical Advisory Board, has been excoriating the “law-breaking” immigrants while defending Jesus, who she says never broke the law. She said:

“Yes, he did live in Egypt for three-and-a-half years, but it was not illegal. If he had broken the law, then he would have been sinful and he would not have been our Messiah.”

Jesus was crucified because he broke the law by claiming to be the son of God, resting on the Sabbath, and driving money changers out of the Temple with “a whip of cords,” among other actions. White called the separated children’s experiences in the camps as “life-changing”:

“Not just three square meals, psychiatric care, clinician, medical care, chapel, events, schooling, language, and love.”

Newspaper articles refute White’s rosy view of the happy life in these camps. Reports show neglect and sexual and physical abuse in facilities for separated and unaccompanied children that are run by private companies with deficiencies and citations in the hundreds. Southwest Key, which took in almost $1 billion in three years, had 246 violations that include lack of medical attention and “inappropriate contact” between children and staff. In early 2017, when DDT was inaugurated, Southwest Keys facilities had laid off workers and closed some shelters because they were under capacity. Now their 16 Texas shelters receive variances to hold up to 150 percent of their licensed capacity. Juan Sanchez, the company’s CEO and president, makes at least $1.5 million which puts him one of the top five highest-paid nonprofit CEOs in the U.S., despite the company’s 246 violations in three years.

In some places, children have died after the staff restrained them. Only one of the facilities was closed after the deaths which were ruled homicides. Children are also controlled through psychotropic drugs. In a faith-based nonprofit home, a court-ordered guardian reported that “caregivers sometimes have sex with each other while on duty.” Some foster homes have unsupervised firearms lying around. Some cited facilities merely change their names to get more grants. The grim stories continue in “shelters” where federal officials continue to send children after they know about the citations.

The DHS Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has changed its mission: gone are the words “providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship.”

Such are the new “family values” of the Grand Oil Party.

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