Nel's New Day

March 3, 2019

Religion, GOP’s Desperate Hypocrisy for Control

Yesterday, I wrote about the values of Republicans who attacked Michael Cohen, former fixer for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) during testimony before the House Oversight Committee hearing. Walter Einenkel, social media editor and writer on Daily Kos, has produced a compilation of their specific values. The following are all GOP committee members who attacked Cohen’s character. Their behavior reflects their personal values:

  • Jim Jordan (R-OH): He denies the allegation of complicity in multiple sexual assaults against athletes while he was assistant coach, but the accusations are credible. The other congressional Republicans protected him.
  • Clay Higgins (R-LA): He resigned his job as an Opelousas (LA) police officer to avoid disciplinary action for using “unnecessary force on a subject during the execution of a warrant and later lied during an internal investigation.”
  • Virginia Foxx (R-NC): She claimed that she didn’t know that “tar baby” is a racial slur and that the murder of Matthew Shepard was not a hate crime, but instead “a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing [hate crimes] bills.”
  • Jody Hice (R-GA): He wants to remove Muslims from any First Amendment protections with the claim that Islam is not a religion.
  • Mark Green (R-TN): He said that people should get their health care from God, not Medicaid, and his disparaging comments about Muslims and LGBTQ people are so extreme that he had to withdraw his nomination for DDT’s Secretary of the Army.
  • Paul Gosar (R-AZ): His seven siblings opposed his election and supported his opponent, perhaps because he subscribes to conspiracy theories such as Jewish Holocaust survivor George Soros funded and organized the neo-Nazi movement in the U.S., including the violent rallies in Charlottesville (VA) and most recently said that climate change doesn’t exist because of “photosynthesis.” He’s the one who said, in his adult fashion, “liar, liar, pants on fire” to Cohen during the hearing.
  • Thomas Massie (R-KY): He met with Maria Butina, arrested for being a Russian spy.
  • Mark Meadows (R-NC): He lied about having a college degree and claimed that he wasn’t a racist during the hearing although he campaigned as a “birther” while President Obama was running for a second term.
  • Ralph Norman (R-SC): He pulled out a gun at a townhall meeting and left it lying on the table in front of him in violation of state law, but high-level friendly officials exonerated his actions.
  • Bob Gibbs (R-OH): He compared serving in Congress to serving in the military to wipe out his veteran opponent and sent fliers to influence the Democratic primary.
  • Glenn Grothman (R-WI): He has a long history of saying crazy things such as marriage equality should be illegal because it does a disservice to men who fought in the Civil War and college Pell Grants “discourage marriage.”
  • James Comer (R-KY): He was sued for threatening a senior state legislative staffer who reported allegations of sexual harassment to his superiors while they were both in state legislature.
  • Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): He has a history of driving infractions—a DUI conviction in 2001 that he tried to get out of and more recent citations for using a wireless communication device while driving and speeding in North Dakota.

That’s over two-thirds of the GOP members of the Oversight Committee who failed to defend DDT’s actions in exchange for smearing Cohen throughout his testimony. The other five members are new—first or second term—and standard far-right, Christianity only, gun-loving, climate deniers.

Christian Republicans elsewhere are standing up for their religion.

Some of them celebrated West Virginia GOP Day with a poster connecting Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to the terrorism of 9/11 because she is a Muslim. The arguments about the image in the capitol rotunda became so heated that the state House’s sergeant at arms, Anne Lieberman, resigned after her anti-Muslim remark and another person was injured. Last month, a West Virginia legislator was called on to resign after he called LGBTQ groups “the closest thing to political terrorism in America” and “a modern day version of the Ku Klux Klan.” It’s the state that believes in freedom of religion—if the religion is Christianity.

In December 2018, a girl was bullied after her mother sued the Mercer County School District for teaching the Bible as fact.

Fundamentalist Christians have become so rigid that they think even Catholics don’t deserve religious freedom. DDT’s waiver permitting a South Carolina foster care agency to discriminate kept same-gender parents from becoming caregivers for children; now the agency is discriminating against a Catholic because of her faith. The Catholic woman was not only rejected as a foster parent but also told that she could not volunteer with the agency because it wanted only the “right type of Protestant church.” The biggest foster care agency in the state, Miracle Hill Ministries refused to work with a Jewish family in 2017. The governor rescued them with an executive order allowing the government-supported agency to discriminate, and Miracle got its federal waiver from the federal Department of Health and Human Services in January. This sentence in Miracle’s foster care manual may need revision:

 “In accordance with Federal and State laws and South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS) policy, this agency and contracted providers for foster care and adoption services are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, political beliefs or disability.”

During the past ten years, the number of South Carolina home placements has been flat while the number of children in foster care has spiked. In addition, South Carolina law requires that foster children receive religious education “in accordance with the expressed wishes of the child’s natural parents.” The exemptions for Miracle permits it to “effectively terminate biological parents’ rights to direct their children’s religious upbringing while those children are in the care of the child-placement agency or a foster family,” according to a lawsuit. Another lawsuit is challenging Michigan’s “license to discriminate” law for adoption agencies.

The evangelical legal service Alliance Defending Freedom is suing on the behalf of homeless shelter Hope Center in Anchorage (AK) for the “right” to deny assistance to transgender people. The shelter wants an exemption from the city to discriminate in violation of its law and say that charities should be able to deny access if they want. Assistant municipal attorney Ryan Stuart said that the suit has not proceeded because Hope Center refused to cooperate with the investigation. Rather than being threats, transgender people are the most likely targets of physical and sexual abuse.

In his speech at last week’s conservative CPAC conference, VP Mike Pence said that “freedom of religion” is under attack, and the above examples prove that he’s right. What he wants, however, is freedom of evangelical religion to oppress all others. Pence’s religion is attacking LGBTQ rights, denying health care to people, limiting medical providers to communicating only his own non-medical beliefs, keeping children from finding good homes, rejecting scientific education for young people, in short, complete control of all people in the United States with his far-right Christian sexist, racist, homophobic beliefs.

Many times, I’m proud to live in Oregon, and this week is one of those times. The City Council for the state’s largest city, Portland, unanimously approved a measure giving civil rights protections for atheist, agnostic, and other nonreligious residents in employment, housing, and public accommodation. Madison (WI) may be the only other city in the United states with similar protections.

What a strange country where people have rights–or no rights–based on where they live.

 

July 30, 2015

Portland Says ‘Shell No” to Arctic Drilling

 

Dangling shell noIn a David v. Goliath set-to in Portland (OR), protesters are one-upping the kayaktivists in Seattle, adding small boats and a “human curtain” from GreenPeace rappelling 100 to 200 feet down from the city’s tallest bridge, St. Johns Bridge, to block a ship from going out to sea. Earlier this year, protesters tried to block the departure of the Shell-leased drilling rig “Polar Pioneer” from Terminal 5 in the Port of Seattle. This week’s altercation escalated when the 380-foot icebreaker MSV Fennica tried to leave dry dock where it had a 39-inch gash in its hull repaired after the ship tried to take a shortcut early in its 1,000-mile journey from Dutch Harbor to the Aleutions.

Environmental activists in kayaks protest the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project, as it underwent repairs on Swan Island, Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Portland, Ore.  The damaged ship, a 380-foot icebreaker, which arrived at a Swan Island dry dock early Saturday morning, is a key part of Shell's exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska's northwest coast. It protects Shell's fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil. (Sam Caravana/The Oregonian via AP) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO LOCAL INTERNET; THE MERCURY OUT; WILLAMETTE WEEK OUT; PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Environmental activists in kayaks protest the Fennica, a vessel that Royal Dutch Shell PLC plans to use in its Arctic offshore drilling project, as it underwent repairs on Swan Island, Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Portland, Ore. The damaged ship, a 380-foot icebreaker, which arrived at a Swan Island dry dock early Saturday morning, is a key part of Shell’s exploration and spill-response plan off Alaska’s northwest coast. It protects Shell’s fleet from ice and carries equipment that can stop gushing oil. (Sam Caravana/The Oregonian via AP) MAGS OUT; TV OUT; NO 

fennica mapThe channel was shallower than shown by the 80-year-old charts that were surveyed with sextants and hand-held lines. The NOAA ship Fairweather, in the area to map Arctic shipping routes, found rocky areas less than 30 feet deep, one only 22.5 feet deep. The Fennica draws 27.5 feet.

fennica AnnThe Fennica is vital to Shell’s drilling because it contains a 30-foot-tall capping stack equipment  designed to prevent a blowout like BP experienced in the Gulf’s Deepwater Horizon disaster. A spill would be disastrous in Arctic waters which are covered by ice flows much of the year.  The Chukchi Sea is home to an estimated 2,000 polar bears, as well as gray whales, bowhead whales and a major walrus population. Gray whales swim north also go for feeding grounds in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell received federal permits last week but must wait until the Fennica arrives at the drill site before the company can reapply for more permits to drill into hydrocarbon zones in the Chukchi Sea.

Bridge goodScheduled to leave last night, the Fennica set out about 6:00 (PST) this morning but was forced to turn around by the presence of the protesters who plan to remain there indefinitely in spite of the unusual 100+ degree temperatures for at least today and tomorrow.

Bridge with yellowFollowing is an article from Oregon’s junior senator, Jeff Merkley:

“At this moment, the damaged Fennica icebreaker is entering the water in my home of Portland, OR, in what could be a make-or-break moment for our environment and our future climate.

“Here’s the background: In 2008, President George W. Bush not only lifted the executive ban on Outer Continental Shelf drilling, but also leased parts of the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea to Shell for oil and gas exploration.

“When Shell first attempted exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea in 2012, however, it was clear the company was out of its depth. In September, during open sea testing, Shell’s spill containment system was “crushed like a beer can.” Then the Noble Discoverer caught on fire later in November. To cap off the year, Shell’s other rig, the Kulluk, ran aground and was deeply damaged near Kodiak Island after facing severe winter weather. In a review, the U.S. Coast Guard deemed Shell’s wreck to be a result of “inadequate assessment and management of risks.”

“Yet now, with no indication things will be different this time around — and with clear and mounting evidence we can’t afford to burn Arctic oil if we are serious about climate change — Shell is making moves toward Arctic drilling once again. In fact, Shell’s rigs are already on their way to Arctic waters. The only thing that is stopping Shell is the delay of the Fennica, the damaged icebreaker, which they need to begin their drilling operations.

“Shell should seize this last chance to reverse course and drop their reckless plans for Arctic drilling before it is too late.

“Drilling in the Arctic is the height of irresponsibility. If the Chukchi leases are developed and Shell begins operations, a major oil spill is extremely likely. We all remember the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in billions of dollars in economic damage to coastal communities and devastating pollution from the 4.9 million barrels of oil that were dumped into the warm Gulf waters. The harsh climate and remote location of the Arctic would make cleanup of a comparable spill nearly impossible, and if a spill happens during the winter, months could pass before a well could be plugged.

“Additionally, we should not be investing in infrastructure that will lock in decades of production — and carbon pollution — from previously unexploited fossil fuel reserves. The science is clear that we have already discovered five times as much fossil fuel as we can afford to burn if we hope to avert catastrophic climate change. Human civilization already faces enormous challenges from climate change.

Save the Arctic“We must take steps to alleviate this danger, not make it worse — and for Shell that means demonstrating global leadership by deciding to not put the world at risk by tapping into untouched and treacherous oil reserves in the Arctic. The U.S. should also use its power and leadership as the new Chair of the Arctic Council to work with other nations to keep Arctic oil off limits.

“Simply put, the Arctic may have oil, but the risks of drilling in the Arctic are too great. Arctic oil should stay in the ground.

“Several weeks ago, five of my Senate colleagues and I introduced the Stop Arctic Drilling Act of 2015, legislation that would protect the Arctic — and our climate — by prohibiting any new or renewed leases for oil drilling in the Arctic.

“It can take years to pass legislation in Congress, however, and right now we only have a window of weeks — maybe just days — before Shell starts drilling.

“It’s time for Shell to do the right thing and announce that they will pull out of the Arctic.”

Two friends—married couple Ann Hubard (photographer) and Taylor West (writer)—went down to the Willamette River this morning to chronicle the events as protesters kept the icebreaker from leaving Portland to help Shell drill for oil. Hubard, who was interviewed for the Oregonian, sent photos, and Taylor sent her impressions of this morning’s gathering:

zigThirteen Dangling in Protest:  Dangling some 408 feet above the Willamette River, yellow and red streamers marked each roped body. A flotilla of colorful kayaks was strategically stationed below, and a lone powered paraglider zigzagged up and down, in and out, voicing support for the mission. News helicopters tracked and recorded the event from on high while hundreds of spectators craning necks to spot the target of the daring dissenters. Moving ever so slowly up the Willamette came the MSV Fennica, 9,000 tons of icebreaker stretching longer than a football field. At last the dare is on!

Bicycles under bridgeThe crowd is eerily quiet,  the flotilla of kayaks centers itself, and, in unison, the danglers hang at attention. Suddenly I’m aware of only the paraglider’s engine and the roar of helicopters circling above. We stand together in anxious anticipation, heads shifting back and forth in tennis-match-style from danglers to ship. Who will say uncle first? Suddenly, the crowd erupts in boisterous cheers and applause. Yes, the Fennica has stopped before it turned and straddled on the river side-saddle as it starts its retreat. The daring dangling dissenters have won this round.

last chanceComment from Hubard: The Shell ship is huge, and being there helps you really understand how impressive these protesters are, to hang there as long as they have. Their dedication and perseverance is amazing.  I feel honored to have been there.

Addendum: This afternoon, police closed the St. Johns Bridge and removed three or four of the protesters dangling from the bridge. Law enforcement also circled protesters in kayaks and canoes that had continued to enter the river and block the big ship’s access. At 5:55 (PST), the Fennica went under the St. Johns Bridge, going north toward the Columbia River. Updates are available here.

 

June 16, 2013

Catholic Parishes Participate in Pride Parade

The Pride Parade is today in Portland (OR), and an article in yesterday’s Oregonian has made me feel a bit better about the Catholic Church. At least four Catholic parishes are participating in this LGBT event, one of the parishes for the 13th consecutive year. They are doing so despite Archbishop Alexander K. Sample’s order that parish individuals could walk in the parade but members shouldn’t walk as a community with the parish’s banner.

Sample has been an archbishop for less than three months, having been promoted by the former pope from his position as bishop in Michigan. A deacon wrote about Sample: “He is being sent to Portland, Oregon, a place steeped in the secularism of the age and desperately in need of a vibrant witness of faithful Catholic and life.” A petition to elect Sample pope garnered 1,000 votes.

Regarding the Pride Parade participation, Sample’s spokesman, Bud Bunce, said that while the archdiocese respects all people, “this was not an event that St. Andrew’s parish could be in as a parish.”

A bulletin insert last Sunday at St. Andrews described the history of the parish’s welcoming ministry from its first committee meeting in 1996. Its first book at Portland Pride was in 2000, and members started marching with their banner, “Welcoming the Whole Family,” the next year. Susan Kelly, St. Andrews member since 1969, explained that the decision to be a welcoming congregation started when the identical twin daughters of a couple in the church came out in high school. “How can we reach out and get over this Christian–-not just Catholic-–attitude that if you’re gay or lesbian, you’re not part of the community?” Kelly said.

The 2006 pastoral guidelines from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops state the church must welcome homosexuals to full and active participation in the faith. St. Andrew’s bulletin insert quoted the document.

An April poll from Pew Research Center shows that 80 percent of adults say that the Catholic Church, along with Islam and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day  Saints, are “unfriendly” to the LGBT community. St. Andrews carried the banner in the Pride Parade to refute this unwelcoming attitude. Jane Braunger, a parish member since the 1980s, said, “For us not to embrace this [welcoming] statement as a core commitment about openness and acceptance and living the Gospel is cowardly.”

Tom Karwaki, chair of the St. Andrews’ pastoral council, said that parishioners want to talk to the archbishop about their commitment to the Pride Parade. “We’re not acting out of disobedience,” Karwaki said. “We’re acting out of obedience to the Gospel and the mission of this parish.”

The Rev. Steve Newton, a Holy Cross priest who is pastor of St. André Bessette that is also participating in the Pride Parade, said, “The Catholic Church supports gay people, even though there is a broad difference of opinion on their lifestyle.”

Three years ago, Archbishop Timothy Dolan asked Church of St. Francis Xavier not to carry a banner in the New York pride parade after the church’s 15 years of participation. The group reluctantly complied, but the next year members carried a banner with the words “Saint Francis Xavier, come to the table.”

Parishioners and local church leaders may display more acceptance and welcoming than the those higher in the leadership hierarchy. After organizers of the Chicago Gay Pride Parade graciously changed the 2012 parade’s start time so that it wouldn’t interfere with mass at a Lakeview Catholic Church, Cardinal Francis George compared the parade to a Ku Klux Klan rally. The affected church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, is gay-friendly, home to the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, AGLO Chicago.  Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, said, “To equate a movement that is about acceptance, diversity and joy to a group of men in white hoods standing on a lawn and burning a cross is very hurtful and it’s just not truthful.”

Another example of Catholic bigotry, the organization complicit in child abuse among its parish leaders, is the firing of a teacher after she became pregnant following artificial insemination. Last week, a federal jury ordered the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati to pay her $170,000 after three years of litigation. The teacher said that she was unaware that artificial insemination violated church doctrine and believed the contract clause about abiding by church teachings meant she should be a Christian and follow the Bible. The archdiocese used the argument that she was a ministerial employee who could be dismissed without government interference, based on a Supreme Court decision, but the jury did not find this as part of her role in the school.

On the highest level of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has more concern about what he calls the corruption of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican then the child molesters still within the church. He said, “In the Curia [Catholicism’s central bureaucracy] there are holy people. But there is also a stream of corruption. The ‘gay lobby’ is mentioned, and it is true, it is there. We need to see what we can do.”

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said, “structure, not sexuality, is the real issue.” In SNAP’s statement, they wrote, “The church is a monarchy. Monarchs are unaccountable. So many monarchs are corrupt. This is true in both secular and religious institutions.”

The new pope might want to be careful in his investigation; the “gay” part might be higher than he realizes.

Those at the top of the hierarchy of rigid religions such as the Catholic and evangelical Christian churches either don’t understand or don’t care how important religion can be to some people. Many LGBT individuals consider their faith like a family. The loss of that community, usually because male leaders try to force LGBT people into the inflexibility of fundamentalist religions, can be devastating for those who value their religious family.

Even worse is the loss of both religion and biological families when LGBT people declare their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. A recent survey of almost 1200 self-identified LGBT adults conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 40 percent of them have been rejected by a family member or friend because of their LGBT identity, and 29 percent have been made to feel unwelcome in a place of worship.

Although the average age for a perception of being different was 12 and the positive realization came at 17, those who told a family member or close friend didn’t do so until they were 20. That’s a long time for teenagers to hide an important part of themselves from the world around them. Even worse is the fact that about 50 percent of youth who confide in their parents are rejected by them, resulting in high levels of suicide and health issues.

In the public eye, the lack of accepting LGBT people has caused great numbers of problems from the simplest bureaucratic issues to birth certificates not have the correct names of parents or gender of the person to the violent brutality when LGBT people are beaten and sometimes killed.

But following the pattern of “one heart at a time,” that educates people with personal stories, Lori Duron started a blog, Raising My Rainbow, thirty months ago after she realized that her younger son (left and below) is gender nonconforming.

Subtitled “Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son,” the blog has been distilled into a book of the same title in which Duron communicates not only the frustration caused by rearing C.J. but also the joys that he brings her.

The rainbows in nature show the same sense of joy. Photography thanks to Ann Hubard. As she said, “Here is Palouse Falls celebrating Gay Pride with a fabulous rainbow.” Happy Pride Parade Day!

Palouse%20Falls

February 11, 2013

Indifference Leads to Culture of Rape

“If you think that rapes only happen at Notre Dame or in India or in Steubenville, you are wrong. A person is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes, and many of these are in small towns, including where you live. For every 100 rapes, only three lead to jail time for the rapist.”

I wrote this on January 23, 2013 in Nel’s New Day. Since then, the Portland (OR) chief of police, Mike Reece, has shown that his ignorance may promote the culture of rape in this Northwestern city. The media is forcing Reece to rethink his personnel decisions,  but without the prevalence of newspaper articles about his indifference to—or ignorance about—what constitutes sexual contact, a demoted police officer might have continued to direct detectives who investigate sexual assault and human trafficking in this city of over 2 million people.

Reece’s problem went public last summer after a Portland police review board voted 5-1 to fire a captain, Todd Wyatt, because he inappropriately touched female employees and continued a road rage confrontation by pointing a gun at another motorist when he was off duty. Board documents showed that it found him “untruthful” and questioned his ability to perform with integrity. Part of the testimony was an audiotape of Wyatt’s meeting with a subordinate and the employee’s union representative in which he lost his temper and threatened to have the subordinate arrested. One board member “believed that [Wyatt] manipulated the truth in these encounters and never saw himself at fault,” instead mischaracterizing the motives of those who complained about his behavior.

Reece demoted Wyatt to lieutenant and re-assigned him to supervising robbery and sex crimes investigators. Wyatt said that he had apologized to one of the several female employees complaining about his behavior four different times and had attended sexual harassment training four times.

Even Reese has found Wyatt a problem employee. In a lengthy letter after an internal investigation relying on multiple credible witnesses including Washington State patrol officers, Reece showed Wyatt to be a hot-tempered bully who makes insulting and inaccurate snap judgments about civilians, says demeaning things about women, and engages in unwanted thigh-touching at work. Reece also indicated that he reassigned Wyatt to the sex crimes division because he needed “close supervision.”

The letter quoted Washington State patrol officers who described Wyatt as “arrogant and cocky” after they stopped Wyatt following another driver’s 9-1-1 call and faulted Wyatt for escalating the road rage incident. Reece wrote, “Even after six months following the incident, your statements do not reflect a thoughtful and appropriate approach.”

Wyatt’s reference to one woman who complained about his touching was redacted in his disciplinary letter, but the response remains readable: “The victim’s ‘physical appearance or level of education or skill is irrelevant. Your comment is insulting and unprofessional and shows a lack of accountability or awareness as to how your actions are perceived by others.'” In addition, the letter states, “… your [Wyatt’s] response lacks a general sense of awareness of the different points of view regarding power and authority. Additionally, your comments about [redacted] are unprofessional to say the least.”

In a meeting with the editorial board of Portland’s newspaper The Oregonian, Reece said that he didn’t consider the women’s complaints to be “sexual in nature.” The “inappropriate touching” described in the women’s complaints was Wyatt’s rubbing them on their legs and thighs at work. Wyatt claimed that he only touched one of the women on her knee with his knuckle when he said good morning to her.

Since the media attention, Reece has reassigned Wyatt to his own office to handle special projects. Wyatt, who contends that he was the subject of frivolous claims retaliating for his part in contract talks, plans to sue the city over his demotion. The Portland Police Commanding Officers’ Association, which represents lieutenants and captains, also has filed a grievance with the city, challenging Wyatt’s discipline. Rob Wheaton, an AFSCME Local 189 union representative for civilian employees in the police bureau’s records division, dismissed Wyatt’s allegation that the complaints were retaliatory. “I think that shows an exaggerated sense of self worth,” Wheaton said.

According to columnist Susan Nielson, a 2007 city audit of Portland’s rape response found that detectives often see sex crimes as a less desirable assignment, partly because of very high turnover among supervisors. “Many detectives who do come to work in the sexual assault detail,” auditors said, “are waiting until other assignments open elsewhere.” National crime surveys show that the majority of victims of sexual assault don’t go to the police. Victims fear being judged, demeaned, and touched by strangers; they fear people with power will side against them.

Yet Reece chose to send Wyatt to be in charge of these investigators after a series of complaints by his female colleagues about his unwarranted touching. He said, “The women never complained it was a sexual encounter.”

Phyllis Barkhurst, who spent 17 years in Oregon assessing sexual harassment complaints for businesses and local governments, said about Wyatt’s case, “This is inappropriate behavior targeting one gender, and sexual harassment under the law is a form of sexual discrimination.” Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors or conduct of a sexual nature that’s directed toward a person because of gender. It can include physical touching or graphic comments. Perhaps Reece needs to attend sexual harassment training.

This “culture of indifference” is repeated across the nation.  Members of “the Athletics department and the Penn State administration contributed to a climate where athletes, staff, and faculty within the Athletics program either felt immune from possible repercussions of their actions or felt fearful in reporting what they saw or heard,” according to NOW activist Joanne Tosti-Vasey. Last summer Tosti-Vasey, past president of Pennsylvania NOW, called on “every school in this country [to] heed and change their policies and programs to end any form of campus violence against anyone who steps foot on their campuses.”

The culture of indifference continues with the prosecution of the alleged rape in Steubenville (OH) when perpetrators made a video of carrying a teenage girl from one house to another and raping her. Although Ohio A.G. Mike DeWine stated that “knowledge in and of [the rapes] is not a crime under Ohio law,” a blog pointed out that “Ohio Law decrees that ‘no person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities… Whoever violates division (A) or (B) of this section is guilty of failure to report a crime.'”  DeWine criticized the social media for their involvement, but without their participation, it is likely that no one would have been charged in this crime.

Erin Matson reported that the Washington, D.C. police would not file a report about a man who exposed himself to her and masturbated because she didn’t stay with the man until the police came. Her treatment by the police shows a culture of indifference.  Watson’s blog about parent Laura Murphy wanting to ban Toni Morrison’s Beloved for all students in the Fairfax County School District (VA) also demonstrates that parents are trying to shield everyone from the problems that surround them.

Despite the school district’s policy that allow students to opt out of reading assigned texts because of parental objection, Murphy is working for a state law that would require schools to notify parents before sexual topics arise in the classroom so that they can remove their children from the class. When school officials explained that AP English is a college-level class that often involves discussions of adult topics, Murphy said, “To me, mature references means slavery or the Holocaust.”

Murphy’s position that it’s okay talk about the history of the Holocaust in another country but not about the problems in our own community supports the culture of indifference—an attitude that leads to the culture of rape.

April 8, 2012

Freedom from Religion on Easter

Since the Republican conservatives have taken over the word “Christian,” even accusing President Obama of not being the “right kind” of Christian, the word has become increasingly loaded. Today is Easter, one of the two days that many Christians show up in their place of worship. The question is how they define themselves.

I live in the area of the Northwest near the city made famous by Portlandia. There are many things to appreciate about my adopted state, but last week a sign on a Portland church added one reason. “God Prefers Kind Atheists over Hateful Christians” claims the sign outside the Rose City United Methodist Church affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, dedicated to including people of all sexual identities.

Pastor Tom Tate reports that positive comments about the sign have outnumbered the negative ones about 30-40 to one in an amazing reaction from people across the country. Even Glenn Beck’s poll on his conservative website, The Blaze,  shows a positive attitude toward the message with more than 69 percent of the respondents agreeing with Tate’s statement compared to the 22 percent who disagree.

This response is encouraging when we consider how many people want to deny that the Constitution ensures separation of church of state. The most frightening of the populace are those who believe that the First Amendment states that the U.S. government cannot control religion but religion can control government. This belief has resulted in a growing loss of rights because elected officials follow the pieces of the Bible that appeal to them, and they have done this since the Puritans came to the country wanting the opportunity to practice their religion. The first thing they did upon arrival was to block anyone else’s beliefs.

A classic example of religious bigotry is when Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, was banned from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636. His greatest sin was the belief in separation of church and state, a sin so severe that he was forced to flee his home alone and on foot in the middle of a winter’s blizzard. After help from the Native Americans, Williams settled Providence (RI). Because the town’s compact said nothing about God, Massachusetts claimed jurisdiction over Rhode Island and seized the town of Warwick by force of arms after its soldiers marched through Providence.

In his negotiations with England to save Rhode Island, Williams pointed out the hypocrisy of the people in Massachusetts, that they had left England to escape having to conform and then fought to suppress anyone who disagreed. According to Williams, mixing church and state corrupts the church, that when one mixes religion and politics, one gets politics. After years of negotiation, the English Parliament granted Williams a charter to Rhode Island that authorized a democracy, a civil government unhampered by religion.

After the Revolutionary War, our country continued its religious bigotry. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith, was killed by a mob who considered him to be the devil. People in many parts of the country today still think of the Mormon Church as a cult. New York Gov. Even Rick Santorum insinuated that Mormonism was a cult in a 2007 speech.

Al Smith was accused of taking orders from the Pope instead of following his oath of office if he were elected to president in 1928 and lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover.

Another Catholic, Rick Santorum, plays the evangelical card in pushing his religious beliefs whenever he speaks. Yet over one-third of evangelicals don’t know that he is Catholic. Even 42 percent of Catholics don’t know Santorum’s religion. Perhaps that’s why he keeps losing in the polls—plus only 10 percent of likely voters are evangelicals. They just make a lot more noise than the rest of us, trying to create a theocracy—a return to Puritan New England.

Despite the attempts to force religious belief on the people of the United States, the number of non-religious people has doubled during the past quarter century while the people with a strong belief in religion has dropped by 25 percent. In her surveys of young adults, Monica R. Miller, a post-graduate fellow at Lewis & Clark, has found a pushback against traditional language. “’Religion’ is bound by institutional context. For youth, religion is only done in institutions of faith, and for them, that’s a problem.”

The young people may be on the right track. Atheists have lower divorce rates than those who claim a religion. The least religious countries (such as the Scandinavian countries) often have the lowest levels of crime and corruption, the best educational systems, the strongest economies, free healthcare for all, and other indicators of concern for the common good.

Today, on Easter, may we find a resurgence in the hope that people in this country will be freed of religious tyranny, the dogma that is creating laws across the country. And may the evangelicals do some research on how this country was founded, both freedom of and freedom from religion for all.

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