Nel's New Day

March 31, 2016

“Small Government” in Kentucky, Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 19, 2015

Religion + Politics = Discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

map religious freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

cake good

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

July 18, 2015

GOP Competes with Trump in Bigotry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 12, 2015

Religion in Birth Control, Cakes, Ignorance

Birth control is an obsession with Republicans. Instead of just letting women use contraceptive devices, the GOP tries to stop them and then accuses them of being fallen women who just want welfare if they get pregnant. Colorado is a great example of this GOP problem.

For the past six years, Colorado offered no-cost, long-acting birth control such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants to teens and poor women. From 2009 to 2013—just five years—the program reduced the birthrate for teenage girls by 40 percent and the rate of abortions by 42 percent. It is truly a pro-life program. In the poorest areas of the state, the decline in unplanned pregnancies among single women dropped the greatest. In 2009, half of all first births in these areas were to women under 21 years of age; by 2014 the age increased to 24. About 20 percent of women ages 18 to 44 in Colorado use a long-acting form of birth control in comparison to the national average of 7 percent.

The success rate is saving the state $5.85 for each $1.00 spent in Medicaid—that’s $80 million–something that conservatives claim that they want. Yet the same conservatives rejected funding to continue the program. Excuses given for discontinuing the funding are all based on individual morality of legislators: it increases promiscuity and subsidizes sex. One GOP lawmaker said, “Does that allow a lot of young women to go out there and look for love in all the wrong places?” Other excuses were that the program might fail, despite the amazing success in its first five years. Colorado Republicans also “misrepresented” the facts, claiming that IUD use led to increased abortions (no!), that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cover long-term birth control devices (no!), and contraction access increased teen sex rates (no!).

A year ago the Supreme Court ruled that the corporation Hobby Lobby held such deep religious convictions that it and other “closely held” stock corporations can choose to be exempt from the ACA mandate that employers’ insurance programs include free contraception for women. A spate of similar lawsuits followed the Hobby Lobby decision. One of these, East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell, came before an extremely conservative judge on the 5th Circuit Court. Nominated by Ronald Reagan almost 30 years ago, Judge Jerry Smith objects to abortions rights and has called feminists a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”

The participants in the lawsuit could be exempted from federal rules just by submitting a form or otherwise telling the federal government that they won’t do it. The plaintiffs refused to complete the paperwork, claiming that doing so makes them complicit in the employee’s decision to use contraception. Smith wrote the unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel that the plaintiffs failed to show that the regulations “substantially burden their religious exercise” through filling out a simple form because a letter is not contraception. He also wrote that ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would lead to such absurd challenges to government functions as a person who disapproves of working on Sunday refusing to apply for Social Security disability because it might assist people to work on Sunday if the form is processed on that day.  Smith summarized that “the possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA (the religious freedom act), intended for them to be.”

Smith’s ruling led to President Obama issuing new guidelines for contraception and the ACA. If a company wants to deny contraceptives to its employees, it must submit a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating its objection. The government will then provide free birth control to employees through a third-party insurer. Sen. Patty Murray, irritated with the convoluted process of getting contraception for women, is working on legislation to repeal the Hobby Lobby ruling.

10_commandments_In another religious battle, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is defying the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s recent order to remove the Ten Commandments monument in front of the state capitol building. In a 7-2 decision, the state’s highest court upheld the constitution that states “no public money or property” would be used to support any specific religion. When asked about her defiance, Fallin said, “You know there are three branches of our government: the Supreme Court and the legislative branch and you have the people. The people and their ability to vote.”

According to a survey last year, only 36 percent of the people in the United States know the three branches, a situation that raised cries to improve the education in the country. Growing up in Missouri, Mary Fallin, 59, was subject to the ignorance that most people educated in the South experienced. The instruction about slavery, for example, is that masters gave the happy-go-lucky slaves a family and protected them from the attacking northerners. One popular textbook wrote that slaves experienced the first social security with great clothing, medicine, and lots of food. “The slave … suffered little or no want.”

Education is rapidly returning to the falsehoods of the 1970s with the acceptance of Texas textbooks promoting “tea party manifestos.” A conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, “We’re in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it.” The new history textbooks barely address segregation and lack any mention of either the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws. The Civil War was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery,” minimizing the part of slavery in driving the conflict. A school requirement is reading Jefferson Davis’ Confederate inauguration address which fails to mention slavery while ignoring the speech from Davis’ vice president, Alexander Stephens, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

In today’s South, people still fight the Civil War because their ancestors never conceded defeat or signed a treaty to end the war. The only surrender was military. The North never accepted that the Southern states had seceded, and the Southern states never admitted that they had rejoined the North. Because there was no treaty, Southern leaders were never even tried for treason. Texas will lead the South into continued ignorance, one in which governors can’t even name the three branches of the federal government.

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) - RTX119FY

A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples at The Abbey in West Hollywood, California, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS FOOD SOCIETY) – RTX119FY

In another big lie about “religious freedom” during the past week, the far right is promoting one huge “misrepresentation” with a giant omission after Oregon levied a $135,000 fine against Sweet Cakes by Melissa because Aaron and Melissa Klein refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

The lie: The Kleins claim that there is a “gag order” against their talking about the case.

The truth: They are ordered only to “cease and desist” from advertising that discriminates against same-sex couples. The Kleins are free to talk about the case—the decision, their disagreement, etc.

The omission: Aaron Klein posted the lesbian couple’s personal information—name, home address, phone numbers and email address—on his Facebook page. After the Kleins campaigned at anti-LGBT hate rallies, the women received death threats. They feared that they would lose their foster children because state adoption officials warned them of their responsibility to protect the children and keep privileged information confidential. (The children have since been adopted.) The judge in the case also received death threats.

The Kleins’ martyrdom is also profit-making. Although the fine is $135,000, they have raised over $250,000 online—a nice payment for bigotry.

June 15, 2015

Jeb for President? Part I

The big day has arrived! Everyone knew that former Florida governor Jeb Bush wouldn’t be dashing around the country and coordinating with his Super PAC—something he can’t do after he declares his candidacy—unless he was running for president. Millions of dollars later and on the verge, some people say over the edge, of breaking the law in his campaigning, he’s a bona fide candidate. Here’s what the United States would get with Bush III, as he explains his positions in an opportunistic, passive-aggressive way.

Former Florida Governor and probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire April 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Former Florida Governor and probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire April 17, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Bush’s Christian belief will guide his governing. That includes supporting the so-called “religious freedom” that merges church and state in laws and courts.

Unmarried women with children should be publicly shamed, according to Bush’s 1995 book, Profiles in Character. Six years later, he allowed a state law mandating that women be forced to publicize their names, physical descriptions, and sexual histories if they put up their children for adoption. The courts, who Bush hates, struck down the unconstitutional law, and it was repealed in 2003.  On the campaign trail, Bush said that he’s only “evolved” on the issue in thinking that “dads” should have a responsibility—nothing about withdrawing his earlier statement.

To make himself more presentable to the vast majority of voters in the United States, Bush does address income equality, which he calls the “opportunity gap.” But his defining statement is that any law that “subtracts from [economic] growth” should not even be discussed.

A speaker for the secretive Coal & Investment Leadership Forum a few weeks ago, Bush wooed the CEOs of six coal companies and their guests. The group has spent more than $17.4 million on campaigns and lobbying since the last presidential election. How much for Bush, no one knows for sure, because he concealed donor names by waiting a long time to declare his candidacy.

In New Hampshire, Bush said that the science is not clear on how much of climate change is “man-made” and “for people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant.” In Connecticut, he called on immediate action for climate change because “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.” In foreign policy, the United States should encourage countries with higher carbon emissions rates to reduce them but added that fracking and new drilling technologies is decreasing U.S. carbon emissions. The word “arrogance” disappeared in his next trip to New Hampshire.

Bush got more media coverage than he wanted in early May when he changed his position four times after a question about whether he would have started the Iraq War if he knew then what is known now—that there are no WMDs. First, he said “I would have,” then he said that he misunderstood the question before following up with his not hearing the question correctly. Bush finished up the debate with himself by saying that he would not have gone into Iraq. A year after the war when no one found WMDs, the then-governor of Florida praised the war effort and later described it as a noble mission. By 2013, he was still supporting the war, saying that the public would change its mind about thinking that war was a mistake.

A 19-year-old political science student in Nevada engaged Bush after Bush blamed President Obama for the rise of ISIS. Ivy Ziedrich described the reason for ISIS and said, “Your brother created ISIS.” Bush accused Ziedrich of re-writing history, but that’s what he was doing. The United States pulled back in Iraq because of George W. Bush’s Status of Forces Agreement. ISIS is an outgrowth of Al Qaeda which expanded because of the Bush/Cheney administration’s chaotic U.S. invasion of Iraq. Jeb’s solution is deploying thousands of additional U.S. troops to Iraq in another war.

Bush demonstrated his need for war in the obligatory Europe tour for serious presidential candidates when he addressed Vladimir Putin’s refusal to back off in Ukraine. George W. Bush always liked “Poot Poot,” as he called Putin, because he looked into the Russian leader’s eyes and saw his soul. When asked about Dubya’s mistake, Jeb Bush said, “I think Putin has changed.” Only last year, the Fox network, Republican leaders, and evangelical Christians thought Putin was a better leader than Presidential Obama. Now Bush wants more “robust” training exercises in Ukraine.

After the disastrous week of flip-flopping on his brother’s Iraq War, Bush tried to explain that his new wrist watch would make the Affordable Care Act redundant. His position on ACA is replacement with a “consumer-driven” system, a popular term with no substance. His vision surrounding his new Apple Watch:

“On this device in five years will be applications that will allow me to manage my health care in ways that five years ago were not even possible. I’ll have the ability, someone will, you know, because of my blood sugar, there’ll be a wireless, there’ll be, someone will send me a signal. It’ll come here, I’ll get a double beep saying, ‘You just ate a butterscotch sundae’ or something like that. ‘You went way over the top. You’re a diabetic, you can’t do that,’ whatever.

“We’ll be able to guide our own health care decisions in a way that will make us healthy. And ultimately, we have to get to a health system, away from a disease system.”

Even if everyone in the United States could afford the expensive Apple Watch, the device will be reduced to saying “you need medical attention” if a person suffers from a broken leg or a genetic disorder. That medical attention will require health coverage to be affordable. Cancer needs chemotherapy, not a watch. Heart disease requires a cardiologist, not a watch.

Bush does know that his Apple Watch won’t help people with Alzheimers. He wants to cut domestic spending in almost all other areas but calls for increased funding to find a cure for Alzheimers and speed up the approval process for medications to treat the disorder. Tampa Bay Times’ Adam C. Smith noted that Florida state lawmakers in both parties “recall Bush vetoing their budget items targeting Alzheimer’s research and care while at the same time approving tax cuts often mainly for the benefit of specific businesses or wealthier Floridians.” Then Bush called the Alzheimer measures a “want,” not a “need.” His “evolution” may come from his mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s disease.

Asked about his favorite author, Bush cited Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve which declares that Blacks have a lower intelligence level than Whites. Murray’s newest book, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission, calls for dismantling the United States regulatory and welfare programs because of the culture of laziness “in our inner cities in particular.”

Murray proposes a legal defense fund started by “just one wealthy American” to give wealthy people veto power over much of U.S. law. His recommendations would erase the minimum wage, overtime laws, most environmental protections and financial reforms, many worker safety laws, and anti-discrimination laws.

Bush was supposed to be the smart one, yet he’s having trouble demonstrating that characteristic. He can’t speak coherently about Iraq, thinks his Apple Watch is part of an anti-Obamacare vision, isn’t up to speed on immigration policy, and believes people who believe in climate science are “arrogant.”

Because Bush is so weak on foreign policy, he needs advisors—and they show poor choices. His top adviser on US-Israeli policy is George W. Bush. Of the 21 foreign policy advisors he listed, 17 served in the George W. Bush administration including the top policy architect of the Iraq War, Paul Wolfowitz.

Before Wolfowitz became the cheerleader for the Iraq War, he promoted the theory that Saddam Hussein, not Islamic extremists such as Al Qaeda, was responsible for the world’s anti-United States terrorism. The theory started over a decade before the U.S. declared war on Iraq and included blaming Saddam for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the attack on the USS Cole off the Yemen coast. Wolfowitz, top Pentagon official for Bush I, contributed to a book on the 1993 World Trade Center bombing called Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War against America. He was also a prime advocate for Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader, who pushed the false information on Saddam’s supposed weapons of mass destruction onto U.S. leadership.

Wolfowitz disagreed with the testimony of General Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, that it would take “several hundred thousand soldiers” to occupy Iraq; discounted the possibility of sectarian violence in Iraq following the invasion; insisted that Iraq’s oil revenues would finance post-war reconstruction; and declared that he was “reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators.” All these claims were false. Now he’s advising another Bush about global conspiracies.

That’s the tip of the Jeb iceberg. Part II tomorrow.

May 31, 2015

The ‘Christian’ Approach to Religious Freedom

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 8:43 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Last Friday night, 250 armed people congregated outside of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, to “protest” the existence of Muslims and hold another cartoon contest depicting the Prophet Muhammed (عليه السلام).” Jon Ritzheimer, the organizer of the event, said it was meant to be a peaceful protest, but his Facebook post asked people to come armed. These persecuted Christians, as conservatives call themselves, wore shirts that said “F**K Islam and shouted insults. Others yelled about the United States being a “Christian nation.” The Muslims refused to engage, and the event dwindled down after four hours. The question is whether the protesters would have been called “terrorists” if Muslims had behaved this way outside a Christian church. How can young people in the U.S. respect anyone if they have people like this for role models?

gunnuts

Conservative Christians who want freedom from caring for the poor are reinterpreting Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Historically, the verse champions the needs of the poor, but Glenn Beck’s website, The Blaze, claims that the “least of these” refers to those poor beleaguered Christians who struggle to share their faith. Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College (Louisville, KY), explanation shows how the phrase applies to Indiana’s Memories Pizza:

“This text is not about poor people generally. It’s about Christians getting the door slammed in their face while sharing the gospel with a neighbor. It’s about the baker/florist/photographer who is being mistreated for bearing faithful witness to Christ. It’s about disciples of Jesus having their heads cut off by Islamic radicals.”

Conservative “least of these” Christians pushing for extremist, discriminatory,“religious freedom” laws and—in Louisiana—an executive order will be unhappy to discover that they have energized the Wiccans, atheists, and Satanists.

Michael Newdow, who lost his 2005 battle to remove “under god” from the Pledge of Allegiance, is arguing that his religious freedom is violated by carrying money with the statement “In God We Trust.” He compares it to forcing a Christian to carry something that says, “Jesus is a lie.” People who mock Newdow should look at their ridiculous argument that baking a wedding cake for a gay couple means that the baker is participating in the wedding. Newdow wrote, “There is obviously no compelling government interest in having ‘In god we trust’ on our money.”

Currently the question of whether atheism is a “religion” is being determined case by case across the country, but two recent cases have come out on the side of yes. Warren (MI) was fined $100,000 for excluding an atheist from the city’s nativity display, and Madison (WI) voted “to add non-religion as a protected class” under its equal opportunity ordinances, the ones targeted by “religious freedom” laws. President Obama included “atheists” in his Religious Freedom Day address in 2014.

The Satanists have declared that the Supreme Court ruling in Hobby Lobby allows pregnant women to sue Missouri for its 72-hour waiting period for abortions. The case comes from a Satanist who lives hours away from the nearest clinic and works for hourly wages, making two trips over three days apart “imposes an unwanted and substantial burden on my sincerely held religious beliefs.” The Satanic Temple has already stopped a Florida school from its Religious Freedom Day in January after its proposal to participate in the event.

Wiccans claim that the religious freedom laws would allow them to use marijuana and currently banned psychotropic drugs. Those following the Wiccan religion could also refuse blood, DNA, urine, and Breathalyzer tests. Dancing naked in the street for celebration would also have to be allowed. Religious freedom would also allow schoolchildren to wear pentangle symbols.

Kenneth Smith from Harpers Ferry (WV) has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of his daughter claiming that evolution is a religion. According to Smith, teaching about evolution violates the separation of church and state. The daughter plans to be a veterinarian, and Smith also claims that the school is jeopardizing her ability to get into a good college to get her degree because her grades are contingent on learning about evolution “that doesn’t exist and has no math to back it.” Smith has also written a book, The True Origin of Man, to represent “the truth of man’s origins confirmed by D.N.A. mathematical and scientific facts.” You can get it on amazon.com.

Blocking a legal marriage in Alabama shows how the conservatives’ desire for “religious freedom” is a sham. Last February, the Rev. Anne Susan DiPrizio, a Unitarian minister, was at the Autauga County Probate Office when a State Probate Judge Al Booth refused to marry a lesbian couple with a legal marriage license. Booth had halted compliance with the federal court’s marriage equality order the day before. DiPrizio offered to marry the women, and Booth ordered her out of the building. He called six sheriff’s deputies, who arrested her and charged her with disorderly conduct. Last week she pled guilty and received a 30-day suspended sentence, 6 months of probation, and a $250 fine.

The last week goes down in the chronicles of conservative Christianity as the defense of the Duggars. Last Sunday I wrote about how 27-year-old Josh, the oldest of 19 Kids and Counting, sexually molested five females, four of them his sisters when he was 14 years old. Many in the Christian community rose in defense of Josh:

Jessa Duggar’s father-in-law:  The Duggar parents should be “commended” for the way they handled the situation. (Josh’s father concealed the crime for over a year before going to the police and lying to them about what had happened.)

Carrie Hurd, wife of Heritage Covenant Church Pastor Patrick Hurd: Josh was just “playing doctor” and it was no big deal.

“Creationist Activist” Eric Hovind, son of creationist theme park creator Kent Hovind in prison for conspiracy and mail fraud:  “If evolution is true, then there is no absolute right and wrong. If evolution is true Josh should not have admitted his faults over a decade ago because what one evolved bag of molecules does to another bag of molecules just doesn’t really matter.”

Mike Huckabee, GOP presidential candidate: “Good people make mistakes” and “being a minor means that one’s judgment is not mature.”

Blaze Blogger Matt Walsh, Blaze blogger: “[Progressives] are moral opportunists. They are the actual hypocrites.”

A few Duggar revelations during the past week:

Fox News spent less than two minutes covering the Duggar story between May 21 and May 25, with some of that time devoted to criticizing other networks for pointing out Josh’s connections with prominent politicians. Fox network Megyn Kelly will interview Josh’s parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, on Wednesday, and air the piece on Friday, June 5.

At least 20 advertisers have pulled commercials from the program including General Mills, Payless, Crayola, Pizza Hut, Choice Hotels, ConAgra Foods, Behr Paint, ACE Hardware, H&R Block, CVS, Party City, Keurig, Walgreens, Sherwin Williams, Jimmy Dean, Pure Leaf, Allstate Insurance, Ricola, HauteLook, and King’s Hawaiian. Continuing advertisers include Minute Maid, Arm & Hammer, Listerine, Oscar Mayer, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Firehouse Subs, and Lowes.

Jim Bob and Josh Duggar told Arkansas state trooper Joseph Hutchens that the abuse happened only once, through the girl’s clothing. Hutchens used that as the reason he only gave Josh a “stern talk.”

Josh sued the Arkansas Department of Human Services in 2007, nine months after a planned Oprah appearance led to an investigation into his crimes, to appeal the DHS decision from its investigation.

One of Josh’s victims was five years old or younger at the time of the molestation.

While campaigning for U.S. Senate, Josh’s father, Jim Bob, said, “Rape and incest represent heinous crimes and as such should be treated as capital crimes.” Knowing what he did about his son, he still said that Josh should be executed.

While TLC hasn’t said that it’s dropping 19 Kids and Counting, the Duggars’ adult and married daughters, Jessa and Jill, are talking about a spinoff series with their husbands Ben Seewald and Derick Dillard.

May 3, 2015

‘Religious Freedom’ Opens Doors to the Secular

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

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

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

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

The Oklahoma Constitution states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Next Page »

AGR Daily 60 Second News Bites

Transformational News In 60 Seconds; What Works For Seven Future Generations Without Causing Harm?

JONATHAN TURLEY

Res ipsa loquitur - The thing itself speaks

Jennifer Hofmann

Inspiration for soul-divers, seekers, and activists.

Occupy Democrats

Progressive political commentary/book reviews for youth and adults

V e t P o l i t i c s

politics from a liberal veteran's perspective

Margaret and Helen

Best Friends for Sixty Years and Counting...

GLBT News

Official news outlet for the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of ALA

The Extinction Protocol

Geologic and Earthchange News events

Central Oregon Coast NOW

The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW)

Social Justice For All

Working towards global equity and equality

Over the Rainbow Books

A Book List from Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table of the American Library Association

The WordPress.com Blog

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: